CEDARTOWN, Ga. — In the 10 months since Eric Keais died in a hit and run crash, a lot has changed in the world, but in some ways, his brother Aaron Keais feels as though his world has been at a standstill.
“Just like, man, how many more months I gotta wait,” Aaron said in frustration in a recent interview with 11Alive.
Almost a year after the deadly hit and run crash in Polk County, the family is still waiting to see if the man who killed Eric and the government officials involved in the aftermath, would be held accountable.
The latest statewide Judicial Emergency now means they will have to wait even longer for the district attorney to present the case to a Grand Jury. The order, which has been extended for the fourth time since March, “continues the prohibition on jury trial proceedings and most grand jury proceedings’ and also notes, “it is unlikely that any jury proceedings will begin until September or later.”
Police say Ralph Dover hit and killed Eric Keais in Cedartown on September 11, 2019.
According to the incident report, while Eric laid in the ditch dying, Dover drove almost a mile away from the scene and called his friend, State Representative and House Majority Whip Trey Kelley.
The incident report also shows there was significant damage to Dover's SUV including damages to the windshield, but Kelley said in the report that he wasn’t sure what Dover hit when he met with the man near the scene. Kelley says Dover told him he might have hit a person or a deer. The state representative then called the police chief at home.
At the time, it was late in the evening and Chief Jamie Newsome was off duty. After the call between Kelley and Newsome, records show Chief Newsome did not call 911 either but called one of his sergeants to go meet the two men near the scene. The officer found Eric lying in a ditch, over an hour after the collision, within feet of where the impact happened.
When 11Alive exposed the story in February of this year, no one had been charged or arrested in the deadly crash. In an interview for the story, county coroner Tony Brazier said, “this mess here stinks to the high heavens. This reeks of the good ole boy.”
Polk County District Attorney Jack Browning responded to the investigation by telling 11Alive he would present the case to a Grand Jury in March. But then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Several judicial orders since then have kept the DA's office from convening a Grand Jury.
Still No Arrest
The DA’s office says until the emergency order is lifted, it is unclear when the case could be heard.
“I was ready for Trey Kelley and Chief of Cedartown Jamie Newsome to be arrested,” Aaron said. “I believe that they're trying to push this one off, because they're still trying to cover it up. Still trying to act like it's nothing.”
In the 10 months since the crash, Dover, the driver, has not been formally charged or arrested.
Keais family attorney Min Koo says she understands the difficulty the DA is facing, however, “it doesn't prevent the police department from bringing arrest and making charges and moving the case forward from their end.”
Koo adds that she has also had trouble getting any information from the police department about the case.
“We know there are police videos from that night. We know there are photographs of Mr. Dover's damaged vehicle. And we know there are other documents that are pertinent that will shed light on what happened to Eric that night. And unfortunately, we still don't have the majority of these documents, not a single video, not a single photograph,” she explained.
Koo has since served the city papers, essentially starting the process for a wrongful death lawsuit.
The notice says the city's negligence, like the police chief not calling for medical help, caused Eric to die from his injuries. Koo sent a similar notice to the driver and plans to do the same for Rep. Kelley. So far, she says, she has not gotten any responses from any of the parties she sent the notices to.
The attorney for the Cedartown Police Department confirmed to 11Alive it is in receipt of the intent to sue notices.
The Run for Reelection
In the meantime, Representative Kelley has brushed off calls for him to resign. Instead, Kelley ran a primary campaign this spring in an effort to keep his seat in the state legislature. For the first time since becoming a state representative, another republican, County Commissioner Jennifer Hulsey ran against the representative. Hulsey says she joined the race because she believes she would do a better job in the position and adds that Eric’s case played a small role in her decision to run.
“What really concerns me the most is that a man was left lying in a ditch to die. For me, I think the accountability needs to happen. Whether you're a state or local person, you know, a state official or an everyday person, you need to be accountable for your actions. So, I just want justice for Mr. Keais to happen,” said Hulsey.
Kelley won the primary. He is now in a general election fight to keep his seat in November.
Just last month, a small group from the community gathered outside the Polk County courthouse calling for the courts to hear the case before voters head to the ballot box again. They gathered, again, along with Aaron the second Sunday in July.
Koo says they are disappointed in how the pandemic has affected progress in the case but “we're still hopeful. Obviously, we are ready to fight forward and get justice for Eric. So, we haven't given up on that end.”
11Alive reached out to Trey Kelley twice for an interview but he has not responded.
Chief Newsome and the DA both declined to make a comment about where the case stands.
As for why the DA cannot convene a Grand Jury by video conference, the state Supreme Court says district attorneys in Georgia are currently not authorized to convene Grand Juries remotely. However, a committee of judges is looking at what changes might need to be made to state law or judicial rules to allow that option in the future.
The Reveal is an investigative show exposing inequality, injustice, and ineptitude created by people in power throughout Georgia and across the country. It airs Sunday nights at 6 on 11Alive.