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The Death of Andrew Lewis, Part IV: The Scene

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

There are a few things that everyone who has followed this case knows about the death of Andrew Lewis.

These things have been gleaned from media reports (mostly newspaper reports, since the local TV stations have avoided this story as if it were dipped in Ebola), which themselves were products of reports from the Montgomery Police Department and interviews with city officials.

Things like … Andrew Lewis died from a single gunshot wound. His car, a white Ford Explorer, hit a telephone pole before bursting into flames. Lewis’ killer, Eli Miller, was never taken into custody. Lewis’ longtime girlfriend, who was at the scene when Lewis died, had her car rammed by Lewis during an intense car chase.

These are all things people know.

These are also things that are almost completely untrue.

What will follow here is a complete rundown of the scene of Andrew Lewis’ death, taken from dozens of sources, documents, police interviews and reports and simply walking the scene and talking to those who live in the area.

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First of all, to understand the oddity of this crime scene, we should probably start with this: There were two accidents in the same Bell Road front yard in the early morning hours of Jan. 17, 2016.

Around 2:30 a.m. that morning, a car heading north on Bell Road lost control and went tearing down a small embankment and into the front yard of a residence, almost directly across Bell Road from the entrance to Henley Way. That car took out the support wire to power pole and knocked out electricity to the surrounding homes. It also shot across a berm and uprooted a small tree and several plants.

At roughly the same time, Andrew Lewis and Eli Miller were finishing up the second of two confrontations near the Alley Bar, where Lewis’ band was playing a gig. The 31-year-old musician would later go to the MPD precinct on Ripley St., as did Miller and Mary Jehle, Lewis’ longtime, on-and-off girlfriend who was on a date with Miller that night.

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The dual reports were filed sometime between 3 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. After it was over, Lewis called a friend to say he was headed to his parents’ house to sleep. That was at 6 a.m.

Only two people alive today can say what happened next, but somehow, Lewis ended up near Jehle’s parents’ home Greystone Drive. From there, chaos ensued.

A week after this shooting, when I walked and drove the route between the Jehle home and the shooting scene, visible tire tracks were still evident from the three-car chase that took place. The tracks ran along Greystone, turned right onto Monticello Dr. – at one point, one of the cars was at least 25 yards from the road, but usually they were no more than a few feet off the road – and then turned right onto Bell Road, headed south.

From there, the cars are on asphalt and it’s impossible to discern exactly what happened. But we do know one key fact: Lewis’ car was headed north on Bell Road when it left the roadway. So at some point, the chase – assuming one was still ongoing at this time – made its way past the crash site, turned, and Lewis picked up enough speed that his car left the road, went down the embankment some 50 yards south of where the earlier car suffered the same fate.

Lewis’ car crashed through a berm filled with bushes and small trees and came to a stop between that berm and a berm farther north. When Lewis’ car, an older, white Explorer belonging to his father, came to a stop, it was facing north and a power pole was roughly 15 feet from the driver’s side door.

With presumably Lewis still driving the Explorer, tire marks evident in the grass, show that it was then driven backwards a few feet and a three-point turn attempted. That turn left the SUV’s front end facing Bell Road. It then moved forward – how quickly is unclear, but given the depth of the tire tracks in the grass, it couldn’t have picked up much speed – and came to a stop near the power pole. If it hit the pole, it did so only slightly, and on the passenger-side front bumper.

Now, we need to consider a few other things at this point, because so far I have provided information almost exclusively on Lewis’ Explorer. But several other key issues are still unknown.

Where were Jehle and Miller in their cars? Miller’s attorney, Andrew Skier, in a previous interview, made it clear that Miller and Jehle were not in the same car. The Lewis family said MPD detectives at first told them that Andrew intentionally rammed Jehle’s car. At some point later in the investigation, the same detective said that didn’t occur.

When were shots fired? Was it before Lewis’ crash or after? From other comments by Skier, it seems almost certain that the shots were fired prior to the accident. When I asked Skier in an interview a few days after the shooting how an unarmed Lewis could be considered a threat that might require deadly force to stop, Skier said that a vehicle could be considered a weapon. That would seem to indicate that the story Miller has told police is that he felt Lewis was attempting to cause him serious bodily harm with his Explorer.

But what occurs next at the scene is possibly the oddest question: After rolling into or near the power pole, Lewis’ SUV catches on fire. The fire is so hot and so intense that it melts away the vehicle’s side rearview mirror. Witnesses report flames as high as 20 feet in the air, and the power pole has burn marks at least that high up. And the blaze is mostly on the driver’s side – the side away from the power pole.

And even more strange: Andrew Lewis’ body wasn’t in his Explorer. It was found lying in the southbound lane of Bell Road – more than 30 yards away.

Witnesses at the scene reported that Lewis’ body was in the road prior to his Explorer catching fire. They also said they saw Jehle and Miller engaged in an emotionally charged conversation in the street prior to police arriving. After a few seconds, one of the two cars at the scene left, but it’s not clear who was in that car or where it went.

Skier made it clear that Miller was at the scene when police arrived and that he was never arrested. However, Miller was taken into a custody for questioning – at least, officially, according to a source. Had Miller attempted to leave the scene or refused to cooperate with the investigation, he would have been arrested, the source said.

Skier said Miller never provided a statement to police about the incident, instead allowing Skier to provide that statement on his behalf. Whatever that statement was, it must have been a good one, because Miller walked away without being arrested.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

Brandon Moseley

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Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.

“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.

Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.

It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.

Tuberville said he would ban that practice.

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A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.

Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.

President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.

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The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.

Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

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Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

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The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

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Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

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Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

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Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

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Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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