Former State Sen. Tim Jennings is scheduled to appear Feb. 13 in a Chaves County Magistrate Court on a criminal complaint for allegedly failing to make an immediate report of an accident.
Jennings is disputing many aspects of the official account.
“I did not have an accident,” he said, adding that he has yet to receive the summons. “I got stuck in a ditch.”
The Chaves County Sheriff’s Office filed the criminal complaint Thursday after events transpiring Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
“As of right now, he (Jennings) has not been formally charged with anything,” Sheriff Mike Herrington said Friday morning. “He has not been arrested. What has happened is our deputies did a criminal complaint in magistrate court issuing a criminal summons for him to appear on the charge, State Statute 66-7-206, immediate notice of accident.”
Herrington explained that deputies found a late-model SUV in a concrete irrigation ditch near Cottonwood Lane and Brasher Road at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. He said deputies noticed damage of at least $500 to the vehicle.
Herrington said no one was near the accident scene when deputies came upon it, so they began a search to find Jennings, listed as the registered owner of the vehicle. They were able to talk with him at 1:39 a.m. Wednesday at his home on Cottonwood Lane.
“The reason they were looking all that time for him was to make sure that he was OK, so it was a welfare check,” Herrington said. “When they did make contact with him, they could smell the odor of alcoholic beverages on his person, along with slurred speech, but nothing could be done in reference to driving while intoxicated, because it was from 9:30 that night until 1:39 in the morning, so we can’t prove that he didn’t consume something once he got home,” Herrington said.
Herrington said that deputies had to wait a few hours to talk with Jennings because there was no answer when they knocked on the door. They then called a family member who came to the residence and reportedly found Jennings asleep.
Herrington said deputies informed Jennings that he should have contacted the police at the time of the incident.
According to Herrington, Jennings told deputies that the incident occurred at the time they located the vehicle and happened after he turned around to see what he thought might have been a mountain lion that had passed near his car, leading him to end up in the ditch. Herrington said Jennings had no injuries and was said to have refused medical attention.
Herrington said that the thought is that Jennings walked home, with his residence being “just a short distance” from where the vehicle was found, but that Jennings only told deputies that he “went home.”
Contacted Friday morning, Jennings said he had not been given a citation and that what happened does not constitute an accident.
“I was turning around to see what kind of animal I saw,” he said, explaining that he thought it could have been a mountain lion or a bobcat because the area has a lot of wildlife. “I got stuck in a ditch. My truck rolled off into a ditch. It high-centered and I couldn’t get out,” Jennings said.
He said his car was not blocking any traffic, so he locked the car and went home after he and a neighbor discussed the situation and agreed that it would be better to wait until the morning to try to move the car. He also said that he has no comment regarding the allegation of the smell of alcohol on him and that he doesn’t recall refusing medical treatment, only that he told deputies that he was fine.
No one was with him in the vehicle when the incident occurred, Jennings said. He added that he does not consider the damage to the vehicle to be significant.
The arraignment has been scheduled for the early afternoon of Feb. 13 in the court of Division 2 Magistrate Judge E.J. Fouratt.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.