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Polk County man, state Rep. Trey Kelley indicted on charges related to 2019 fatal hit and run (copy)

Arrest warrants will be issued after a grand jury indicted a Cedartown legislator and a Polk County man on criminal charges resulting from the September 2019 hit-and-run that killed 38-year-old Eric Keais.


Trey Kelley

Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jack Browning announced Thursday that Ralph “Ryan” Dover III was indicted on charges of felony hit and run and reckless conduct. House Majority Whip Trey Kelley, who represents District 16, was indicted for reckless conduct.

Keais, who was riding a bicycle, was struck and killed on the night of Sept. 11, 2019, on Main Street just north of Cedartown.

Facebook photo 

Eric Keais

“Over the course of two days, the grand jurors heard a substantial amount of testimonial and video evidence from law enforcement officers and the GBI medical examiner, as well as several witness interview recordings from those involved in, and with direct knowledge of, the incident,” Browning said.

“Because the Georgia State Patrol, the investigating agency, had not made any arrests in connection with the investigation,” he continued, “the grand jury was authorized to determine for themselves and to recommend the charges they believed were appropriate and justified under the law and supported by the evidence from the state patrol’s investigation.”

A Polk County Coroner’s report listed the cause on the death certificate as homicide by hit and run and stated that Keais was struck by a vehicle driven by Dover.

Dover and Kelley were waiting across the street from the incident location in the Dollar General parking lot in Cedartown after the incident happened, the report stated.

It said that Keais was struck at 8:20 p.m., but the first police on the scene calling for ambulance and fire service didn’t happen until 9:26 p.m.

It also said GSP investigators note “that there had not only been a hit and run aspect to this (Motor Vehicle Accident/Fatality) but there was a breach in the dispatch of assistance to our victim, Eric C. Keais.”

According to the reports provided by the coroner’s office:

After Dover struck Keais with his vehicle, he left the scene just north of Frances Drive and North Main Street. He drove his damaged vehicle eight-tenths of a mile to a local business, where he then called Kelley, who is an attorney.

Dover wanted Kelley to come down to where he had parked and said “he had struck something on North Main Street while driving southbound.”

When asked about the timeline of events, Kelley stated that, to the best of his recollection, he received a phone call from Dover sometime after 8:30 p.m. and that he arrived between 8:45 and 8:50 p.m. They then returned to the spot on North Main Street across the roadway in the Dollar General Market parking lot.

The statement aligns with the coroner’s report that Kelley inspected the car before they left the location where Dover had parked.

Keais was later found in the ditch across from the store.

Prior to that, Kelley called Cedartown Police Chief Jamie Newsome to send an officer out to see what Dover had hit. Newsome contacted Sgt. Josh Turner on his phone via 911’s radio system.

During the time between when Keais was struck and when help arrived, an hour and four minutes passed.

Recordings from 911 provided to the Polk County Standard Journal through an open records request show that Newsome called for Turner to call him at around 9:17 p.m. It was 9:22 p.m. before Turner arrived on the scene and began searching.

Turner found Keais’ body in the ditch some 75 to 100 feet away from the bicycle in the roadway, according to County Coroner Tony Brazier. It was 9:28 p.m. before EMS and fire services were called to the scene by 911.

Once dispatched, it only took EMS around 2 minutes to arrive.

A medical airlift was requested to transport Keais. But before it could lift off, emergency personnel were struggling to resuscitate him and canceled the inbound helicopter.

“By now it is obvious that our victim had been lying in the ditch for at least an hour, which probably affected his condition and ultimate ability to survive his injuries,” the coroner’s report stated.

Keais was pronounced dead at 10:15 p.m. that night at the hospital.

According to the additional information provided with the death certificate, the report specifically lists Dover, Kelley and Newsome by name as being involved in the incident.

Kelley issued a statement to the Polk County Standard Journal that said: “During the night of September 11, 2019, I received a call from a Polk County citizen who I had seen earlier in the night at the Polk County Fair and is well-known to have limited mental capacity. He was agitated and upset because he had been involved in an accident and thought he may have hit an animal.”

He said he attempted to calm down Dover but decided to go “assess the situation and figure out what had happened.”

When he got there, Kelley said, he didn’t realize there was another person involved in the incident.

“After arriving and driving up and down the road, I saw nothing that indicated a life or death situation,” he stated. “But when I saw a bike located in the ditch off the right side of the roadway, I felt the right thing to do was to call the police and that is what I did.”

Lester Tate, Kelley’s lawyer, said he plans to present facts that will show his client’s innocence.

“I have not yet had an opportunity to review the actual charges, but I am well aware of facts surrounding the case,” Tate said. “I believe strongly once those facts come to light that they will show that Mr. Kelley did nothing wrong in the situation.”

Kelley was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2012 and serves as majority whip. He was reelected to the post last month, winning 78.1% of the vote.

Jeremy Stewart, File 

In this June 2020 file photo, Polk County resident Edgar Hood holds a sign in front of Polk County Courthouse No. 1 during a rally to call for justice in the death of Eric Keais.

Keais’ case was originally set to be presented to the grand jury in March, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic postponed all in-person court proceedings until October.

A grand jury was summoned to hear Polk County cases in October with safety measures taken to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. A second, concurrent grand jury was then summoned for this month to hear the tremendous backlog of cases that had built up.

Polk elections officials brace for Senate runoffs

With media attention and the balance of power in the U.S. Senate on the table in Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoff elections, Polk County elections officials are preparing for a new wave of ballots to be cast.

Early voting in the two elections began Monday, with Polk County voters able to go to the Polk County annex building at 144 West Ave. in Cedartown from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through Dec. 31 except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Early voting will also be available at the Nathan Dean Community Center at 604 Goodyear St. in Rockmart from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Dec. 28-31 only.

Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue is facing Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, while Sen. Kelly Loeffler is going up against Democrat Rev. Ralphael Warnock.

Polk County had a record voter turnout for the Nov. 3 general election, as more than 72% of Polk County’s 24,189 registered active voters cast ballots. More than 79% of those were from advance in-person voting and absentee ballots.

Polk Elections Coordinator Brande Coggins told the board of elections last week the total number of registered voters in the county grew by around 300 prior to the Dec. 7 cutoff. While some could have fallen into inactive status, that means there are roughly 25,700 registered voters in Polk County. The county started with around 23,000 at the beginning of the year.

“There’s no denying that this county is growing at an increasing rate,” Coggins said. “So we have to be proactive in our planning for 2022 and beyond.”

The elections office had processed more than 2,600 absentee ballot requests for the Jan. 5 runoff as of Friday evening and had gotten over 500 completed ballots returned.

All polling places will be open on election day. Those who wish to request an absentee ballot for the runoff can do so by visiting ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov.

Public health director: 'You can't get COVID from this vaccine', encourages people to take vaccine when available

As an advisory panel recommends allowing mass use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to help battle a continuing outbreak, Northwest Georgia’s regional health director said the science holds up.

“It seems to be very safe,” said Dr. Gary Voccio, director of the 10-county Northwest Georgia Public Health District, which includes Polk and Floyd counties. “There are very few side effects — pain at the injection site, mild fatigue and potentially a fever.”

One important note, he said, “you can’t get COVID from this vaccine.”

That’s because of how it is made.

The vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna aren’t a weakened version of a live virus or a dead virus. It’s essentially a small amount of the virus’ messenger RNA that allows the body to recognize the virus as a foreign element.

Traditionally, making vaccines requires growing viruses or pieces of viruses — often in giant vats of cells or, like most flu shots, in chicken eggs — and then purifying them before administering the vaccine.

The method for creating the new coronavirus vaccine is radically different. It starts with a snippet of genetic code that carries instructions for making proteins. Pick the right virus protein to target, and the body turns into a mini vaccine factory.

If you look at an image of the virus you’ll see the red, spiky parts. Those allow the virus to engage with the body and replicate. Those S proteins, or spike proteins, are what this vaccine targets.

“(The vaccine allows) your immune system to recognize the spike protein is a bad thing,” Voccio said. “It senses the foreign substance and sets up an immune response.”

It appears to work very well, he said. The question is how long it lasts.

“We do not know if it will be lifelong,” he said. “We do not know if you’ll need to get it once a year.”

That little fact comes down to how the particular vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna work. But the research leading to this type of vaccine has been in place for years.

“They’ve had the research down. They just had to get it done in bulk form,” Voccio said.

Long before COVID-19 was on the radar, the groundwork was laid in large part by two different streams of research — one at the National Institutes of Health and the other at the University of Pennsylvania — and because scientists had learned a bit about other coronaviruses from prior SARS and MERS outbreaks.

They used that research from the other coronaviruses, including researching a vaccine for MERS, to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The model for the mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 was first developed by scientists in China, where the virus first struck, early in 2020. Scientists in America saw the research and got to work. Days later, they sent Moderna that recipe — and the vaccine race was on.

Shipments from the national supply are expected soon in Northwest Georgia’s hospitals and pharmacies for distribution.

As for Voccio, a veteran pulmonologist turned public health director, he admits that he was skeptical early on. But he said the science holds up and the vaccine could be very beneficial to fighting the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“I strongly encourage people to get this vaccine,” Voccio said.

Standard Journal Area Calendar of Events from the Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 edition

The Polk County Library Board of Trustees will meet Dec. 16, at 1 p.m., at the Cedartown Library, 245 East Ave.

Antioch Baptist Church is presenting its annual drive-thru live nativity Wednesday, Dec. 16, from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. at Camp Antioch, 3900 Antioch Road. The event will include actors and live animals, including a camel. Admission is free and donations are appreciated.

Kresge United Methodist Church, 15 Booger Hollow Rd., is presenting a drive-thru live nativity on Dec. 22nd and Dec. 23rd from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. each night. The event will be canceled if it rains.

The Rockmart Cultural Arts Center is hosting the exhibit “Angels Among Us” at its gallery through Dec. 24, 2020 along with many local handmade items in its gift shop. Artwork is on display from 30 artists in a variety of mediums with angels, nurses, firemen. Church groups are welcome to schedule a tour with masks and social distancing. For more information call 770-684-2707 or visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rcac.ga.

The Northwest Georgia Center for Independent Living holds a COVID-19 Peer Support call every Monday at 2 p.m. via the Zoom website and by phone. For the link and password, or if you need assistance, contact Christina Holtzclaw at 628-246-1825 or choltzclaw@nwgacil.org.

The NWGA Center for Independent Living is offering free Personal Protection CARE Kits to people with disabilities who live in Northwest Georgia. The kits include three face masks, two disposable thermometers, give pair of gloves and alcohol wipes. To request a kit and become a consumer, contact the center at 706-314-0008 or info@nwgacil.org.

Want to get your event or announcement on the calendar? E-mail JStewart@polkstandardjournal.com.

Want to get your event or announcement on the calendar? E-mail JStewart@polkstandardjournal.com.

Want to get your event or announcement on the calendar? E-mail JStewart@polkstandardjournal.com.