“Right after the wreck I wouldn’t have charged him with all that he’s charged with now because we didn’t have enough evidence,” Clark said, referring to Alan Jacob Mogollon-Anaya, who went on the run nearly a year ago after the deadly crash that killed 37-year-old Shirra Branum on March 16, 2017.
The wreck happened in the 600 block of Conklin Road around 6:30 p.m. Branum, of 313 Rambling Road, Jonesborough, was driving a 2001 Nissan Xterra when authorities said Mogollon, driving a 2002 Ford F-150, crossed the center line and struck Branum’s SUV head-on. She later died from her injuries, and her son was injured and admitted to Johnson City Medical Center for treatment.
Mogollon was also injured and hospitalized for several days. His three children — ages 3, 5 and 6 — who were passengers in his 2002 Ford F-150, were hospitalized as well in Johnson City Medical Center’s ICU.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office took blood from Mogollon-Anaya at the hospital and submitted it to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s lab for an expedited blood alcohol content test as soon as possible, Sheriff Ed Graybeal said when warrants were issued last year.
The warrants were issued after former Assistant District Attorney General Joe Shults, who has since left the DA’s office to work in his family’s law firm, alerted the sheriff’s office that Mogollon had been prosecuted on a DUI charge in 2016. He said he told the sheriff’s office Mogollon should be arrested, but when it hadn’t happened after two weeks, he went to Clark. As soon as that occurred, Clark said he met with sheriff’s office officials and the warrants were issued the next day.
There had already been a request for expedited blood tests, and Clark said the two-week turnaround for those results aided investigators in upgrading the charges on April 5, 2017, to include vehicular homicide by intoxication.
“It wasn’t raised to me the day after the wreck that ‘Hey, this guy needs to be charged,’” Clark said. “Could there have been something charged before it was charged? Yes. Was there probable cause he was driving on a revoked license? Yes. Was there probable cause he was driving reckless? Maybe.”
Branum’s family believes the case was mishandled because Mogollon was not immediately arrested, but Graybeal and Clark have said if a weak charge were lodged just to keep Mogollon from fleeing, there’s a possibility it could have crumbled in court.
“I don’t want to charge something flimsy,” Clark said. “I think it’s very unfortunate for this family. They want to see him go to court and see him prosecuted.”
Clark said that’s what he wants as well, and he’s pushing forward to get Mogollon back to Washington County.
“We’re doing everything we can to get him back,” Clark said. “He’s going to go through the trial process like everybody else. He’s not going to be brought back here and just thrown into prison.”
Clark noted that Mogollon’s illegal status in the U.S. was discovered by the sheriff’s office during the investigation, but by then Mogollon was gone.
“All indications to us was with a family and kids, him hiring an attorney, he had a job .... we had no reason to believe he would take off,” Clark said. “I don’t think it’s being fair to anybody, just because he’s Hispanic, to say he’ll leave.”
Prior to the crash, “he had been here illegally for years. ICE had picked him up and let him go, then they issued him an ID and he got a Social Security number to work. All that was issued through ICE when they had a pending hearing to remove him from the country.”
Clark said there are parts of the investigation that he cannot disclose at this time, but looking back at the information known the day after wreck, “I would not have recommended charges. I know a lot of people are saying this guy should have been in jail, something should have happened sooner. As the DA when Joe (Shults) came to me and adamantly said, ‘We need to do something,’ I did.”
Clark said if he had any idea Mogollon would run, “I would have have said charge him that night with something. But when you have a vehicular homicide, you look at everything — blood tests, the reconstruction, prior convictions .... all that stuff was being done. To say he should have been charged sooner, you could argue that ’til the cows come home. I think (the sheriff’s office) did everything by the book.”
Washington County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen said the officer did smell alcohol, but several beer cans burst in the crash, so there was no way to know at the time if Mogollon had been drinking.
“There were so many extenuating circumstances,” Laitinen said, but any claim that the arrest was delayed because of possible medical bills that would be taxed to the county is wrong.
“We aren’t responsible for those medical bills unless he’s in custody when it happens,” she said. “And it’s not a problem to pay for an officer who’s already on duty if we have to guard someone in custody.”
She and Clark said they are doing everything they can to find Mogollon, who is believed to be in Mexico, and bring him back for prosecution.
According to Clark, he has provided some information to the Department of Justice, which has a person designated for out-of-country extraditions. There are still other documents to provide before the process to find and extradite Mogollon can begin. Clark said he was told the process could take 12 to 18 months.