Above, the remains of a van owned by the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter after it was crashed on Oak Ridge Church Road Saturday. Firefighters had to cut the top off the vehicle to free the driver, Keith Hammons, who was a shelter employee.
A Knox-Whitley County Animal Shelter employee is facing drunk driving and theft charges after allegedly stealing the shelter’s van and crashing it in northern Knox County Saturday afternoon.
Deanna Myers, Executive Director of the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter (KWAS), said 44-year-old Keith Hammons was fired from his part-time position with the shelter following the incident.
According to Myers, Hammons called in sick Saturday and could not be at work. He was hired as a part-time employee about six months ago to work on weekends and after hours to clean kennels and feed the animals. The shelter closed at 3:00 p.m. Saturday. Myers said Hammons used his pass code to bypass the security system about half an hour later.
"He did steal the van. He was not supposed to be driving it," Myers said. "He waited until everyone left and came in and took the keys."
Myers said Hammons was forbidden from driving any shelter vehicles because he did not have a valid license. It had been suspended because of a previous arrest for DUI.
"We put a lot of faith in him. We hired him on faith. If people have something wrong in their past and they are trying to do better, you would think they would not do something like this," Myers said. "I wish we could be mind readers. This was a punch in the gut. You like to think you are trying to help somebody."
About 45 minutes after the van was taken, authorities responded to an injury accident on Oak Ridge Church Road. Corbin Police and Fire Departments responded to the scene along with Knox-Whitley EMS. The van had been flipped on its side and Hammons was trapped inside. Firefighters had to cut the top off the vehicle to free him from the wreckage.
Initially, Hammons refused medical treatment.
"The officers on the scene noticed that he seemed pretty out of it and was kind of dazed and confused. He had slurred speech and was unsteady on his feet," said Corbin Police Sgt. Bill Rose. "He didn’t want any sort of treatment until they started asking him about his sobriety, and then he wanted to go to the hospital."
Police say results of a blood test are pending to determine if Hammons was under the influence of any drugs or alcohol at the time the accident. Authorities believe one or both may be factors.
Hammons was released from Baptist Regional Medical Center after being treated Saturday and taken to the Knox County Detention Center.
Corbin Police Officer Jim Miller charged Hammons with fourth-offense DUI, a felony, and for driving on a DUI suspended license after the accident. Myers said she swore out a warrant against Hammons Monday accusing him of theft for stealing the van. It was totally destroyed in the accident.
"It’s a very big loss for us. That van was a big part of what we do for the community. We lost everything because we only had liability insurance on it," Myers said. "It’s a shame this had to happen. It will take us awhile to overcome this."
Myers said the van was used to transport donated food and other supplies, as well as to take some animals to Lexington to be adopted, and for local adoption fairs.
Hammons told police he could not remember any details of the accident. Neither they nor Myers were able to determine where exactly he was taking the van.
Myers said Hammons had admitted on his application for employment that he had at least one prior DUI offense. She said he lived close to the shelter and would walk to work.
Though the shelter does have a policy in place to drug test employees upon suspicion of drug or alcohol use, Myers said Hammons never gave them any reason to do so. She added that the shelter is reviewing its policies toward drug testing and background checks prior to employment in the wake of the incident.
KWAS has two mobile adoption fairs planned for this weekend – one Friday and Saturday at Kentucky Cash in London from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the other Saturday during the Kids Fair at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Corbin. Myers said those events would be more problematic without use of the van, but that volunteers have stepped in to ensure they are still held.