FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Four Fairmont residents have received charges in relation to a July 18 boating accident which caused a 22-year-old man to lose his leg.
According to a criminal complaint, On July 18 Robert Anthony “Tony” Meredith, 36, of Fairmont, smoked marijuana and took “an unprescribed Xanax pill” then later met Jeffery Taylor, 35, of Fairmont, who had driven to his home, according to a criminal complaint.
Meredith and Taylor then traveled to Heston Docks on the west side of the Tygart River in Bentons Ferry where Meredith kept a 1982 “Ski Nautique” boat, which he and Taylor carried two coolers containing “ice and assorted alcoholic beverages” at which point Meredith “took the operators position” of the boat and would “would be the only operator” … “throughout Saturday July 18,” officers said.
The two traveled north on the Tygart River and met with Justin Malott, 33; and Ashley Malott, 35; both of Fairmont, at a beach area and decided Justin and Ashley decided to get on the boat, which they did with their own cooler of “ice and alcoholic beverages,” according to the complaint.
Prior to picking up Justin and Ashley Malott, Meredith drove the boat half a mile south on the Tygart River where he “observed a group of individuals swimming and wading” on the east side of the river and had drunk three cans of “Twisted Tea,” officers said.
When the boat arrived at the Heston Farms Beach area, Meredith “took three ‘hits’ of marijuana that he had brought with him” and made contact with a witness who stated that Meredith was “staggering and stumbling as he walked along the shore” and the witness told officers that “he was ‘too drunk’ or ‘on something’ and should not be operating [the boat],” according to the complaint.
The witness attempted to prevent Meredith from continuing to operate the boat, but Ashley Malott told the witness she would operate the boat instead, however, Meredith began to drive the boat north once all the passengers were aboard, officers said.
At that time, a group of 11 people were swimming in the river near a boat dock on Dunn Avenue in Fairmont when they “saw the [boat] approaching them at a very fast speed” and the swimmers “began waving their arms and yelling to warn [Meredith] that they were in the water,” according to the complaint.
The group of swimmers then attempted to move out of the way of the boat, but William Elliott, 22, was struck by the speeding boat, which “[a]s a result of the impact, Elliott suffered serious injuries to his left leg and right foot,” and “his left leg had to be amputated below the knee,” officers said.
After striking Elliott, Meredith “realized he had just hit something,” and stopped the boat approximately 100 yards from the impact; Meredith then asked the others on the boat, “Did I hit someone?”, to which Taylor responded “I don’t know” … “We got to turn around. We got to go back,” according to the complaint.
Meredith had the boat stopped for 30 seconds before traveling back to Heston Docks, whereupon Ashley and Justin Malott left in their vehicle and Taylor and Meredith left in Taylor’s vehicle, officers said.
After conducting an investigation and taking witness testimony, natural resources police officers began to file a request for a search warrant; during that time, the four individuals who were on the boat came to the Farminton detachment of the Division of Natural Resources Headquarters and “wanted to talk about the boat accident that had happened the day before,” according to the criminal complaint.
Meredith, Taylor, Ashley and Justin Malott all admitted to being present on the boat during the time of the incident, and Meredith admitted “to being the operator of the [boat] when it impacted Elliott,” and he also signed a vehicle search consent form for the boat, officers said.
Upon searching the boat, natural resources officers found a trash bag containing 23 empty Bud Light cans and three Twisted Tea cans, as well as another bag containing two Twisted Tea cans, two White Claw cans and a Artic Summer can; on the dock, officers found four more Twisted Tea cans, according to the complaint; officers also noted that the boat did not have its “Personal Flotation Device” stored in the proper place.
After being read his Miranda rights, Meredith was questioned by W.Va. Natural Resources Police Officer Randall Kocsis, the transcript of which follows:
Meredith: “I’ve been smoking marijuana for over, ha, over 20 years so three hits isn’t realy going to do, impair me where.”
Kocsis: “How do you know? I mean you don’t think so?”
M: “I mean, uh, I just know. I know my body and I just.”
K: “That’s what those billboards say, um. Buzzed driving is drunk driving.”
M: “Un ha.”
K: “Were you buzzed like that? Feeling?”
M: “I might have been buzzed but I was not drunk at all.”
The conversation continued:
Kocsis: “The most logical thing is you were impaired. Do you agree with that?”
Meredith: shakes his head in agreement.
K: “I notice you are shaking your head yes. Do you agree with that?”
M: “Yes. Yeah. You are right.”
As a result of the incident, Meredith has been charged with conspiracy to violate chapter (DNR), reckless operation of a watercraft and failure to render aid. He is currently out on bond.
Taylor, Justin Malott and Ashley Malott have been charged with conspiracy. They are each out on bond.