A Lebanon teen pleaded guilty to a charge of vehicular homicide by recklessness in juvenile court on Tuesday in connection with the March accident that resulted in the death of former Lebanon High School teacher and coach Randy Vanatta.
Darius Johnson, a senior at LHS, was represented in Judge Barry Tatum’s courtroom by attorney Alan Poindexter.
Tatum asked Johnson a series of questions, some of which were answered by Poindexter, regarding his driving history, interest in community service and future college plans. During the brief interview, it was apparent that Johnson, who received his state-issued driver’s license in December 2012, had a clean driving record prior to the accident and wished to attend college at Tennessee State University after graduation.
Investigations showed that no alcohol or drugs were involved in the accident, but that it was a case of distracted driving over the speed limit on Lebanon's Winwood Drive.
Poindexter requested that the court consider his lack of record when sentencing and place Johnson on probation instead of in state custody.
Tatum agreed to the probation, provided that Johnson tour a juvenile detention facility, attend teen safety school, complete 250 hours of community service – and consider how to use this experience to help other teen drivers.
Tatum suggested that Johnson come up with a proposal for a public service announcement against distracted driving, such as those shown on television to discourage driving under the influence.
Poindexter replied that they were not opposed to completing such a task.
“Nobody wakes up and says, ‘I am going to take somebody’s life in an automobile accident,” Tatum explained. “Coach Vanatta realized the value of helping young people and that is what we try to do in juvenile court.”
Vanatta, a former standout baseball and basketball player at Lebanon High, went on to teach and coach at LHS for 30-some years. He coached the Blue Devil golf team for two decades and served as both a varsity assistant with the Devilettes basketball program, LHS football and coached the ninth grade girls basketball team.
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