A verbal altercation between two Clarksville-area teenagers on a four-wheeler and two Clarksville-area farmers fed up with crop damage turned into a physical altercation on April 13, as 77-year-old Merrill Gray’s car collided with an ATV driven by 14-year-old Chris Barnes, near the Beth’el Tabernacle Church of God, on Omar Road.
Gray, Barnes and a passenger on the ATV, Nathan Sprogell, all suffered injuries. According to Barnes’ mother, Julie, her son had sustained a pair of hairline fractures to his left leg. Initial medical examination at Peninsula Regional Medical Center did not discover the fractures, she said, but they did turn up at a subsequent doctor’s visit.
Barnes also sustained abrasions and cuts, including a cut to the head requiring a pair of staples (frequently used in place of stitches, to close scalp injuries), she said, and Sprogell sustained major road rash as well.
Gray was not available for comment, but his grandson, Mike Rainwater, the other farmer peripherally involved in the confrontation, said Gray had suffered significant bruising when the airbag of his car deployed.
According to Barnes’ mother, the family had eventually decided not to wait for a helicopter, and had taken Barnes to the hospital themselves. Gray was transported to the hospital by the helicopter that she said had originally been called to transport her son.
As Gray was being prepared for air transport, he was not charged at the time. Police did, however, charge Barnes with operating a four-wheeler on the highway, and levied a $50 fine, according to Barnes’ mother.
But Julia Barnes said she had later pressed charges against Gray. Don Bucklin, deputy attorney general for Sussex County, confirmed that Gray had been served with a warrant listing two counts of “Reckless Endangering in the 1st Degree” (felony charges) and two counts of “Vehicular Assault in the 2nd Degree” (misdemeanors).
Both sides agreed that the incident had stemmed from allegations of trespassing into Rainwater’s field, which had been planted for corn one day prior.
Barnes claimed that he’d driven past the field, not into it. Rainwater said that both he and his wife had seen the young men in the field itself.
Both Gray and Rainwater pursued the young men in their vehicles, but Rainwater was not present when the collision occurred.
However, he relayed his grandfather’s account: that Gray had pulled his car alongside Barnes and Sprogell, as they were riding on the ATV, and tried to chide them into giving him their parents’ names, so that he could call their parents and ask them to curtail their children’s trespassing. However, as Rainwater relayed, Gray “got tangled up in one of the rear tires (of the ATV),” and both vehicles lost control.
Gray’s car sandwiched the ATV against a telephone pole.
Barnes’ mother had a different perspective. She recognized the farmers’ frustration with ATV riders causing crop damage, but defended her son against the allegations of trespassing. “It wasn’t these guys, but it got taken out on them,” she said. She suggested that Gray had succumbed to “road rage.”
Bucklin expected Gray’s preliminary hearing at the Court of Common Pleas within the week. If Gray waives his right to a hearing, or if the judge finds probable cause, the matter would proceed to Superior Court, he said.