By TONI WALTHALL News-Times Staff A preliminary autopsy determined that the El Dorado motorcyclist killed in a freak accident Friday on U.S. 167, died on impact.
The body of 31-year-old Romara Morris wasn’t discovered until Saturday, when investigators found him and the motorcycle obscured by woods along U.S. 167, launching an extensive three-day investigation into how the accident "fell through the cracks."
Dr. Frank Peretti, a Little Rock pathologist hired privately by Morris’ family, reported the initial autopsy findings Thursday to Union County Coroner Curtis Butterfield.
Peretti’s report is in accordance with Butterfield’s findings. The autopsy determined that Morris suffered a fatal fracture to the neck and died within seconds of his injury. Butterfield said the signing of the death certificate officially closes the case, which will be recorded as an accidental death. Time of death was listed at 7:40 p.m. Friday, according to Butterfield.
Closing the three-day investigation, Union County Sheriff Ken Jones released the finished criminal investigation report Thursday, which establishes a time line of events, beginning at 7:50 p.m. Friday when 55-year-old William Campbell, of Houston, pulled into the parking lot of the Expressway station on East Main.
Campbell told the clerks working inside that he needed to report a possible hit-and run accident and asked the clerks to contact law enforcement.
A clerk contacted the Union County Sheriff’s Office dispatch via a non-emergency number. The UCSO dispatcher, who was under the impression that the accident occurred at the station, which is within the bounds of the El Dorado Police Department jurisdiction, relayed the provided information to the EPD. Two minutes after the store clerk made the call to the UCSO, she clocked out for the night and left the business, according to a report.
Surveillance tapes verified that an EPD officer responded at 8:05 p.m. to speak to Campbell. El Dorado Police Chief Ricky Roberts said the officer stated in his report that Campbell reported some thing hit his 2000 Toyota Ta coma as he was traveling South on U.S. 167. Campbell was returning to Houston from Warren, where his mother resides.
The driver said he neither saw nor heard anything before the impact from behind, which jolted Campbell’s truck forward. He drove to the nearest well-lit exit, where the convenience store is located, to check his truck and contact law enforcement to file a report for insurance purposes. Campbell found extensive damage to the right rear section of his truck.
After determining that the accident occurred outside the police department’s jurisdiction, the EPD officer told Campbell that he would need to call the Union County Sheriff ’s Office to file the report.
Roberts confirmed that the police officer did not attempt to radio county dispatch on Campbell’s behalf. The officer left at 8:08 p.m., three minutes after he arrived.
In his own written statement, Campbell said, "They said there was nothing they could do, so I ask (sic) the attendant to call (county) police. They said they did. No one ever responded. After about a 1/2 hour (sic) I went to a motel. Spent the night." Surveillance tapes show that Campbell re-entered the store at 8:10 p.m. to get change for $4, which the clerks told investigators was used to make a call from the outside pay phone. Campbell later told investigators he was calling his insurance company.
Around 8:27 p.m. Campbell entered the store again to request the zip code for the area and a pen and paper, which he returned about one minute later. All of the clerks interviewed said Campbell did not request any further help to reach law enforcement. Investigators could find no record of a second phone call to the sheriff’s office.
At 8:50 p.m., a white car arrived at the convenience store. The driver was seen speaking to Campbell, until 8:56 p.m., when Campbell and the driver of the white car pulled out of the parking lot at the same time.
Around 6:55 a.m. Saturday, the UCSO received a 911 call, reporting what appeared to be a body lying near a ditch in the 1600 block of U.S. 167. A deputy and ProMed ambulance were dispatched, who called the coroner to the scene shortly after their arrival.
Campbell wrote in his statement that his nephew told him Saturday morning that a body had been found near where Campbell’s incident had occurred. He went to the scene, where he found motorcycle parts and parts of his truck’s tail light.
Evidence at the scene – U.S. 167 and Champagnolle Road – indicated that the motorcycle hit the shoulder of the road, then traveled 149 feet before flipping and hitting a tree, about 18 feet from the roadway.
Investigators found Morris’ body 27 feet from the motorcycle.
Jones said Campbell was consistent with his information, and was clearly not aware that another vehicle or person was involved in the accident. The investigation concluded that an apparent series of misunderstandings led to the delay in reporting the accident and locating the body.
"Our investigation indicates that the driver of the motor cycle was at fault for the accident," Jones stated in a news release, which also noted that Campbell was driving on a suspended license at the time of the accident, an offense for which he has been charged. "In regards to the miscommunications in reporting the accident, it is clear that dispatchers with this office acted properly based on the information they had been given," the news release states.
Jones said Campbell admitted to investigators that the EPD officer informed him to contact the sheriff’s office.
"It is clear that Mr. Campbell failed to make that contact," he stated.
"This has been an unfortunate incident, as all fatality accidents are," said Jones.