Police: Man cut in front of Smiths Station teen, led to death - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

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Police: Man cut in front of Smiths Station teen, led to death

Natalie Windham Natalie Windham
Walter Holler (Source: Muscogee Co. Jail) Walter Holler (Source: Muscogee Co. Jail)

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - An arrest has been made in connection with the accident that claimed the life of a Smiths Station High School senior, just two weeks shy of her graduation.

The accident happened Sunday night at 7:15 on J.R. Allen Parkway and according to police, a Columbus man was responsible for causing the deadly crash. 

Natalie Windham, 18, was driving westbound when she encountered merging traffic.

"She was in the center lane operating an SUV-type vehicle at which time traffic was attempting to merge onto JR Allen Parkway from the Bradley Park Drive entrance ramp. The victim overcompensated on her steering, at which time it cause her vehicle to enter into a yaw. The vehicle entered the median at which time it began to flip and rotate. There's evidence she might not have been properly restrained in the vehicle and as a result, she received very serious injuries to her body and to her head," explained Lieutenant Mark D. Starling, who oversees the Columbus Police Department's Motor Squad.

Windham succumbed to her injuries Monday night at the Medical Center. Muscogee County Coroner Bill Thrower says a crowd of family and friends surrounded and filled her hospital room. He pronounced her dead at 9:30 PM from severe blunt force trauma injuries to her head and chest.

Windham was a senior at Smiths Station High School. Lieutenant Starling says she was supposed to graduate in two weeks. Sources say her graduation announcements and cap and gown were in the car with her when she died. She planned to attend college in the hopes of one day becoming a meteorologist.

Lieutenant Starling says a driver stopped at the scene of the accident with other witnesses and when he realized Windham was injured, he left.

Police notified the media, saying they wanted to identify the "potential eyewitness" and get a statement from him about the crash.

The man voluntarily came to the Columbus Police Department Wednesday morning and spoke with investigating officers.

Now, Walter Holler, 51, is facing charges of Homicide by Vehicle 1st Degree, Improper Lane Change and Failure to  Report an Accident and Render Aid. Warrants for his arrest were issued Thursday afternoon and he was arrested at his Bibb City home.

On the night of the accident, police say he was on his way home from dinner and cut into traffic in front of Windham's SUV.

"There was some failure to yield as to merging into the lane of traffic which caused the victim to correct her steering to avoid possible collision and then lost control, went into the median and wrecked out," Starling said.

As for why he left the scene, Holler's family members say he stopped and did what he could to help but felt he was in the way. They say a third car cut Holler off as he was merging onto J.R. Allen Parkway, forcing him off the side of the road and kept going. The next thing he saw was Windham's crash.

"They thought he left the scene but he left because he was rendering aid just like everybody else was but there was already people there and 911 had already been called so there was no need for him to stay. He wasn't involved in the wreck. He didn't cause the wreck. It's a tragedy. It's awful for anybody to go through. It's bad for all involved," his cousin, Jim Hendrix, told WTVM at Holler's home Friday night.

But investigating officers say Holler's account of the accident did not match what other eyewitnesses told them about the crash. Starling says he did not admit to doing anything as far as merging into Windham's lane and says he saw her car wrecking in his rearview mirror.

"He gave indication as to what he thought had occurred. What we uncovered from the independent witnesses was somewhat of a variation of what he said. We can substantiate what happened through our independent witnesses. What they told us gave us probable cause to bring these charges."

Holler is scheduled to appear in court on his charges on Saturday at 9 AM.

That is the same day the victim, Natalie Windham, will be laid to rest.

Holler's Homicide by Vehicle charge is a felony but officials say if had he stayed at the scene of the deadly crash, his charge might have been a misdemeanor.

As for Windham's seatbelt, Starling believes the teen could have been wearing her lap belt but may have put the shoulder belt under her arm or behind her as she was driving. Police have not come right out and said that she was not wearing her seatbelt.

Holler, a plumber, as not made any statements to police since his arrest.

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