When Chaz Green hit Caitlin Miller's car at almost 80 miles an hour on a wet summer night last year, residents of Claylick Road, a narrow, winding stretch of tarmac in rural Dickson County, thought a bomb had gone off.
"It was so loud it sounded like it should've been in the living room," Heather Creech told police. "I could see taillights at the church. I could hear horrible screams."
Inside her ruined 2004 Ford Explorer Sport Trac, 17-year-old Caitlin Miller, a pretty, soon-to-be high school senior, had sustained a severe brain injury that would kill her within days. Green, her 19-year-old boyfriend, didn't have a scratch on him. He climbed out of his two and-a-half-ton Ford F250 Super Duty pickup, pulled Miller out of her truck through a broken window and laid her body on the damp pavement of the church parking lot where her car ended up.
Then, according to eyewitness Heather Creech, who rushed to Caitlin's side, he called his father.
"The girl was moaning," Creech told police, also saying that she "couldn't smell anything but blood" on Caitlin. "The girl was making eye contact with me and squeezing my hand. The boy just walked away. [He] was on a cell phone saying, 'Daddy, I don't know what to do. I think she's gonna die. I'm sorry for messing up the truck.' "
It is unclear whether Green called 911 before or after speaking with his father, but when he did, he was clearly distressed, crying and begging the dispatcher to hurry while intermittently shouting Caitlin's name in an urgent, tear-filled falsetto. "She's lying here unconscious," he frantically tells the dispatcher. "I think she may be OK, she's OK, she's breathing, her heart's beating. I just need somebody here quick.... Please sir!"
In a matter of moments, EMTs, police and Mark Green, Chaz's father, arrived.
As the emergency professionals got to work, Chaz became more and more agitated. He told one witness, "It's my fault, and we've been drinking." Witness Creech said that Chaz was slurring his words, and that she smelled alcohol on his breath.
Green also told those at the scene that he and Caitlin had been arguing and that they were "chasing each other down." Dickson County Sheriff's Officer Clint Hopper approached the Greens, asking Mark if his son was the driver.
"Yes," Green replied, "and the other driver is his girlfriend. Please don't bother us with your nonsense right now. We have more important things going on."
Within minutes Caitlin Miller would be on a Life Flight helicopter to Vanderbilt's trauma center. No drug or alcohol test was conducted on Chaz Green that night, because officials at the scene allowed him and his father to leave for Nashville to be "observed for any injuries," though he appeared unhurt.
She would die there after remaining in a coma for four days. Five months later, Chaz Green would be booked for vehicular homicide. Bail was set at $5,000 and Green turned himself in, bailed himself out, and never spent a night in jail. A grand jury would later indict him on the charge and his trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 13.
Whether Green meant to end Miller's life as he climbed into his truck that night is irrelevant. All that matters is that Green pushed his truck to nearly 80 miles an hour in a posted 45 zone on a dark, wet night. As far as Assistant District Attorney Carey Thompson is concerned, the recklessness of that action is good enough for guilty.
Even before this tragic accident, Chaz Green lived a troubled life. He had a volatile temper, ran afoul of the law and had a history of harassing the young women in his life.
But now, Green can't charm his way out of his problems. If convicted, District Attorney Thompson will recommend Green face the maximum penalty of three to six years in prison.
Thompson says he's not interested in a settlement and is confident the case will go to trial.
But a guilty verdict is far from assured. Green's family has retained Jim Todd, one of the best defense attorneys in Nashville and a former Davidson County prosecutor. Todd has already succeeded in getting much of the prosecution's character evidence regarding Green's treatment of Caitlin thrown out.
"The judge correctly ruled [that evidence] wasn't relevant," Todd says. "When this accident happened, a lot of quote-unquote 'stories' came out of the woodwork [about Chaz]. No one has raised their right hand and come into a courtroom to say they were true."
For some who knew Caitlin Miller, Green's guilt is not an open question.
"He did it on purpose," says Miller's friend Shea Clabo. Miller's mother, Colleen Sharp, shares this sentiment, and last month, Miller's family filed a $5 million civil suit against Chaz and his parents. The suit claims that Chaz "knowingly and intentionally caused the crash that ended Caitlin's life."
Chaz and Caitlin began dating five or six months before she died.
There are pictures of her from that time, beaming and smiling confidently or striking the kind of brooding, self-serious poses teenagers think they can pull off. In all these images, Caitlin has the fresh, pretty look of an American teenager in full bloom. Her skin is unblemished and her short, dirty-blond hair is tossed in a motion so exuberant, even the camera cannot completely arrest it.
"She was a firecracker," says Donna Hartwell, Miller's boss at the Peebles clothing store in Dickson, where she'd been working for years. "She was a good kid, a sweet kid, but she'd tell you what was on her mind."
Miller would have become a senior at Creek Wood High if she'd lived another three months. She had dreams of one day practicing sports medicine and loved riding her horse up and down the wooded trails that crisscross Dickson County.
The word most often used to describe Caitlin is "feisty." She stood just 5-foot-3-inches, but according to Clabo, one of Miller's best friends, "She was filled to the top with piss and vinegar."
"She would give you the shirt off her back," says Sharp, Caitlin's mother. "But if you pissed her off, she'd get you down and take it off you.... She had a big heart but she could be very vocal."
Caitlin had a few boyfriends in the past, and being pretty and spirited, she never needed to settle.
"The boyfriends she'd had," says Sharp, "if they were wearing the wrong T-shirt, they were gone."
But not Chaz Green. From the beginning, he had a stronger hold on Caitlin than any boy ever had.
"I seriously don't know if you know how much I love you," Miller wrote in an undated love note to Green. "When me and you are getting along, we're happy—you have no idea how happy I am!"
Caitlin's mother has no trouble figuring out her daughter's singular attraction to Green. Colleen Sharp is petite and energetic like her daughter, with short, stylish dark hair and a penchant for rhinestone-studded sunglasses.
"He was a rebel, the one you don't take home to momma," Sharp says, sighing. Green also "had all the toys, the boat and the jet skis and the motorcycle and he had the four-wheelers and that truck that he took out and drove in the mud. He had all the toys to keep her entertained."
Miller's passion for him could turn jealous in an instant, especially when it came to Tara Weese, the mother of Green's child. In a note to a friend, Caitlin tells of snooping in Green's cell phone, noting the length of time that he spent on the line with Weese. "...It said that they talked for like 26 seconds!" she wrote. She also refers to other former girlfriends of Green's and constantly questions his fidelity. "I seriously don't want him to talk to Amanda," she writes one day, apparently referring to another one of Green's ex-girlfriends. In another missive she writes, "I don't trust him a lot."
Reading Miller's letters and talking with her friends, it seems that her jealousy stemmed from Green's past relationships and current behavior, rather than her own insecurities.
"I seriously just don't want to get hurt," she writes, stating it in many different ways throughout her correspondence.
Chaz was also jealous, but acquaintances say his envy could take the form of a green-eyed rage that seemed hard to control.
Shea Clabo says she saw these toxic emotions up close. Like Miller, Clabo is outgoing, an ultra-friendly Southern girl who says, "I could talk to a brick wall if I had to."
She recalls a time when Green and Miller were on the outs and Caitlin struck up a friendship with Cody Wilson, an attractive older guy that she knew from around town.
"Chaz found out about it," Clabo says. "[He] called the guy and basically threatened to kick his ass if he didn't leave Caitlin alone. The guy left her alone, so Chaz and her got back together.... He would run everybody off and even get jealous of her friends."
On more than one occasion, Green's anger was directed at Miller.
"Caitlin would come to work, saying how [she and Green] would wrestle," says Clabo. "He'd get mad and throw her down or choke her or something.... I actually saw bruises, fingernail bruises on her neck."
Clabo also told police that "Chaz has tried to run her off the road before and that she was scared of him."
Sometimes the couple's arguments spilled into public view, and on more than a few occasions, Green showed up at Peebles to continue arguments while Miller was working.
Once, Green hung around the business located in a strip mall at the Dickson exit of I-40 for two hours, following Caitlin between stints spent sulking in his truck.
"They had been fighting because he wanted to see her call list," says Miller's boss Donna Hartwell, referring to Miller's cell phone. Green kept walking in and out of the store and Miller tried to ignore him, folding clothes and taking care of customers. Whenever she would walk past Green, Hartwell says, "he would bump her, like with his shoulder."
This went on for about two hours, until Hartwell asked him to leave. "He puffed up a little," the manager recalls. "You could tell he wasn't a happy camper."
In a statement to police, another colleague of Miller's recalls incidents of Green "blowing up [Caitlin's] phone about every two to three minutes, yelling at her," and waiting for her in the parking lot after she got off so they could continue to argue.
Miller's co-worker, Robert Freeman, told police about an incident where Green seemed to threaten Miller with the truck that would later kill her.
Freeman and Miller had just clocked out and were walking through the parking lot.
"When we left the building, she saw his car and said she had told him not to stay," Freeman wrote in an affidavit. "When we reached the parking area, he revved his truck and acted like he was trying to hit her with his truck. Caitlin laughed it off, but in retrospect this event seemed somewhat significant."
Another time, Clabo recalls, Green attempted to run Miller and Clabo off the road. "We were going to lunch," Clabo recalls. The girls were in a turning lane and Green sped toward them from the opposite direction. Then, without warning, "he came over onto our lane and tried to run us off the road."
Clabo says that she was terrified and pleaded with her friend to call the police or her mother.
"She didn't," Clabo says, disappointedly. "I just don't honestly think he could control his anger," Clabo says of Green, adding, "He was not sorry for what he did."
At her mother's urging, Miller was seeing a therapist to help her deal with her troubled relationship. After Caitlin's death, her mom visited the therapist to find out what had been on her daughter's mind.
The therapist told Sharp that her daughter had never spoken of Green hitting her, but that she was afraid of him. As a precaution, the counselor gave Miller a card with the number of a domestic violence hotline. It is unknown whether Miller ever called the number. But after the crash, the card was found in her purse by detectives.
"I didn't make a copy of it," wrote Dickson County Sheriff's Department Det. Amy Longtin in her report, "because it had dried blood on it."
Miller was hardly the first girl to bear the brunt of Green's temper. In January of 2007, he was involved in a "documented incident of harassment and trespassing" with his then girlfriend, according to a letter from the district attorney's office. The police were summoned, but at the victim's request, no report was filed.
Tara Weese, who is a year younger than Green, dated him for years, starting in the seventh grade. "It was one of those middle school things," she remembers. As they got older, he turned more possessive. "He didn't want me to hang out with my friends very often, he just wanted me to hang out with his friends only and no one else."
He also played the same kind of dangerous games with Weese that terrified Miller, tailgating her at high speed and trying to force her off the road. "He said he was just joking, he would just laugh about it."
Green impregnated Weese in her freshman year. Shortly after the baby was born, he broke up with her.
"It was slammed in my face," she says. "He didn't want to be there, he didn't want to be a dad." She says Green later told her that he "didn't want to be tied down for 18 years."
Green's daughter is now 3 years old. He has not seen her in over a year. Though he works at the Ford glass plant in Nashville, he has never paid a dime in child support to Weese.
On June 5, 2007, the last day of Caitlin's life, she went to work at Peebles. At about 4 p.m., Shea Clabo dropped by the store on her way to a lunch date. "As soon as I walked in, Caitlin came up to me and said her and Chaz were fighting again," Clabo says. Miller didn't have time to talk right then, but, "she did say that she had to talk to me about something important," says Clabo. She went to lunch, assuming she would speak to her friend some other time. They never saw each other again.
After work, Miller went to her mother's house for dinner. Sharp lives in a development so new that it's not yet included on Mapquest. Her house sits on a street of identical houses, bordered by a vast, undeveloped field. Inside, every piece of furniture, art and appliance, even the wall-to-wall carpet, has an unused quality, as if it had been delivered and installed mere hours ago.
Sharp and Miller were extremely close, and talking to Sharp, with her short hair and bouncy demeanor, it's clear that mother and daughter were very much alike. They often spoke 10 to 15 times a day. The last 24 hours of Miller's life were no different.
"She called me that day, several times," her mom recalls. "She told me she thought she had poison oak and then she called back and said, 'Well, I just put 60 dollars worth of gas in my truck,' you know, she was so upset about that.... Finally, she called me and said, 'Do you care if Chaz comes over for dinner?'"
Sharp definitely cared if Chaz came to dinner. But she stopped herself from saying no. The therapist that Sharp had talked her daughter into seeing told the worried mother that she needed to embrace the situation so that she could show her kid "where the relationship was wrong."
With that in mind, Sharp acquiesced. Miller asked her mom to make her favorite shrimp dish and a dessert of cream cheese with grapes and brown sugar. Before long, Caitlin was home, and she and her mom were in the kitchen, laughing, talking and cooking together.
That night, Chaz was late to dinner, but the family waited on him. As soon as Green got there, he, Sharp's husband and the women sat down to eat.
"We set down to dinner," Sharp says, "and my husband is sitting over there just rolling his eyes and I'm rolling back, 'cause neither one of us can stand [Chaz]."
After dinner, mother, daughter and Chaz went out to the garage to play the family's pinball machine until around 9:30. At that time, Miller and Green decided to go to his dad's place to watch a movie.
As they were leaving, Chaz grabbed a bottle of beer from the mini-fridge in the garage and popped it open with a disposable lighter. Moments later, Caitlin came back into the house, kissed her mother and said, "I love you." That act "is what has held me through," says Sharp, her voice breaking tearfully. They were the last words they would share, face to face.
The teenagers walked out to the driveway, got in separate cars and drove off into the night, one behind the other.
Claylick Road is a narrow, meandering stretch of tarmac that connects, in a roundabout way, Charlotte and Ashland City. It's a pretty drive, all green, rolling hills, with the occasional cow chewing quietly by the side of the road.
Chaz Green's father lives on Claylick, right at the corner of Pack Road. It's a one-story brick house, modest but well appointed, sitting on over 72 acres, according to the county property assessor. His mother also lives in the area, a short drive away, past the spot where the accident occurred.
On the evening of June 5, 2007, Chaz and Caitlin went there together after dinner with Caitlin's family.
"We was there for a little while," Chaz says in a conversation with a group of investigators from Dickson County, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the district attorney's office. "She, we, was cleaning up my room, whatever..." he says, early in the transcript of the conversation. "There was a picture of...of my ex-girlfriend that I dated for about six years and she said she had told me to throw it away and I said, 'OK, but why, and um, I have a kid with that girl.' "
They argued about that for a while until Green decided that he needed to go to his mother's house to get a copy of the movie Norbit, which the couple had apparently planned on watching.
"She got mad," Green told investigators. According to him, she said, "Well, I just wanted to stay here...."
The two argued back and forth about it, before Miller got in her truck and sped off the Green's property. She sped off so quickly that she sent gravel and dust flying.
"That's daddy's pet peeve," Green says of his father, Mark. "You don't spin out of the driveway, and if you do, rake it. My daddy gets on me all the time about that." Chaz then attempted to call Miller. "I was gonna tell her [to] call daddy and let him know that you spun out in the driveway, that way I'm not out there raking for four hours. But she didn't answer the phone."
According to the THP, Caitlin made it only a few hundred yards from the end of the Green's driveway to the Bible Missionary Baptist Church before deciding to turn around. It's a small, squat, brick building that appears on the right, just around a gentle bend and over a slight rise as you're leaving the Greens' house. It's possible to see the church from the Greens' driveway, but the view is mostly obscured by a few large trees.
It seems that Miller made a right turn into the church's parking lot and then backed into the middle of the street, her Sport Trac blocking most of the right lane on Claylick Road, as she executed a three-point turn.
While she was driving away and turning around, Green hopped in his much bigger F250 Super Duty and sped toward the very spot where Miller was changing direction. According to the THP, Green was doing between 71 and 79 mph as he came around that slight bend in the road.
His attorney Jim Todd, disputes that Green was traveling that fast.
"I find it hard to believe that he could be going at the speed that the state trooper indicates, in that size of a truck, and keep it on the road," Todd says. He has hired his own accident reconstruction expert from North Carolina to prepare a report on the crash, and the results should be ready in a month's time.
Whatever speed Green was going, what he saw as he rounded the slight curve in the road, must have been terrifying. The front and passenger sides of his girlfriend's vehicle would suddenly have been illuminated by the bright wash of his headlights, like a wounded animal before an oncoming train.
According to THP investigators and his own admission, Green swerved to the right, toward the church, but too late. He hit Miller's much smaller Sport Trac on the front, passenger-side wheel. Miller's car spun like a top, doing a complete 360 before coming to rest more than 10 feet behind its original position, but facing the same direction as before the crash. Small trenches, gouged deep in the road, still mark the spot where Miller's car came to rest.
After colliding with Miller, Green's truck pirouetted across Claylick Road, sliding trunk-first toward the front porch of Bible Missionary Baptist Church. Green's back end obliterated the church's front entrance before straightening and rolling to a stop in a grassy field just beyond the church.
The damage to Miller's car was total. Green's truck was so high off the ground that the bumper appeared to hit Miller's car at about side-view mirror level, crushing the Sport Trac's front right end, shattering the windshield and crumpling the front passenger door. Miller's right front wheel hung out on its naked axle, the metal wheel-well having been rolled up to the hood like the sleeve on a sweater.
Inside her car, Caitlin Miller, who was not wearing a seat belt, had sustained a major brain injury.
Green, who was also unbelted, was completely unscathed, according to reports by police and witnesses at the scene. Green got out of his truck and pulled Miller from hers. Right around that time, neighbor Heather Creech showed up.
Creech told police that she "smelled alcohol on the boy," and that his speech was slurred. Shortly after, Janie Spicer, who lives down the street from where the crash took place, arrived on the scene. Spicer was getting in her car when she heard "a loud vehicle going up Claylick Road." She got to the wreck moments later and saw Caitlin on the ground with Chaz kneeling beside her. "The boy was saying, 'Caitlin, wake up, talk to me,' " Spicer wrote in an affidavit.
Later, Chaz told her, "You don't understand, we've been arguing. He said, 'It's my fault, and we've been drinking.' "
David Burns, of the Claylick Volunteer Fire Department, asked Green if "anyone had been drinking in this accident," according to a statement he made to police. "Chaz said no," Burns says.
Others also say that they did not suspect that alcohol played a part in the wreck. THP Trooper Robert Singleton told investigators that he "stood very close to Chaz Green" that night, and "never smelt any alcohol on his person." He also reported that there were no signs of alcohol consumption in either of the cars.
Despite Green's admission to her, Janie Spicer didn't smell any booze on Green that night and she says, "He was standing really close to me."
As police and emergency personnel began to arrive on the scene, Green told them that he and Miller had been arguing, she'd left his house, and he was going after her. In a later statement to police, however, Green never mentions the fight or that he might have been chasing Miller. The morning after the crash, Green told Singleton that he was leaving his father's house that night to visit his mother.
Whatever Green did leading up to the accident, shortly after the collision, Caitlin Miller lay on the ground, dying in a puddle of her own blood.
Her breathing was fast and shallow, at an irregular rate, according to Wes Bryant, one of the first EMTs to show up on the scene. A bag valve mask was placed over her face to help her breath. Bryant turned to Chaz and asked, "Can you tell me what happened?" His father Mark butted in, saying, "It doesn't matter what happened, just help her."
"I then restated my question and directed it toward Chaz," Bryant told investigators.
Chaz related his version of events until Miller began posturing—a medical term meaning that her muscles began spasming, flexing and extending involuntarily, indicating a severe brain injury. As she writhed on the pavement, Miller began vomiting into the mask on her face. The EMTs rolled her onto her side and suctioned her airway clear.
Shortly after, an ambulance pulled up and Miller was raced toward Nashville. In the ambulance, EMTs coordinated with dispatch, looking for a suitable location to land the Life Flight helicopter. It was already en route from Clarksville to take Miller to Vanderbilt.
Meanwhile, Mark Green walked up to an officer at the crash scene and "advised that they were taking his son to Vanderbilt hospital to be observed for any injuries." After giving a short statement about the crash, they were allowed to leave. Chaz was never tested for drug or alcohol use.
By this point in the evening, Miller's mother, Colleen Sharp, had already fallen asleep in front of the television.
About five minutes after 11 p.m., she says that Mark Green called her and said, "You need to get to Vanderbilt, they've Life Flighted Caitlin."
She says she asked the elder Green what happened to her daughter, and received no answer.
Sharp and her husband rushed to the door and headed for Nashville.
Once there, Sharp saw Chaz, who "never said a word" to her.
After learning from doctors that her daughter was in critical condition, Sharp asked Mark Green, "What did she hit?" Sharp says that Mark Green did all the talking, and insisted that Caitlin had hit Chaz, but wouldn't give more detail than that. (Through attorney Todd, Mark and Chaz Green declined comment for this story.) Sharp says that for days after the accident, she still had no idea how her daughter ended up in a coma.
On the afternoon of June 6, Sharp says she confronted Green about the accident. "He said, 'She hit him.' And I said, 'She was hit from the side. How did she hit him from the side?"
Finally, fed up with Green's intransigence, Sharp lost her temper. "I'll tell you what, she's up there fighting for her life, and this little son of a bitch [Chaz] is down here walking around. Get him out of my sight!"
She says she has not seen Chaz Green or his father since. On June 9, 2007, three days and a few hours after her boyfriend's truck collided with hers, Caitlin Rae Miller died.
In the days and weeks after Miller's death, detectives and investigators from the THP, Dickson County Sheriff and the district attorney's office began an investigation of considerable scope. The THP's Critical Incident Response Team conducted an extensive accident reconstruction, involving computer rendered "after crash situation maps" and "maximum engagement" charts. Detectives also canvassed the county, talking to Caitlin's friends, her co-workers and the manager at Peebles, as well as the Green family and Colleen Sharp, trying to untangle fact from teenage drama and innuendo. Every witness, EMT, police officer and fire department volunteer who arrived at the crash scene was interviewed. A search of Miller's room at her mother's house found love notes and letters to friends, a laptop, and under the bed, a bottle of Smirnoff green apple vodka. Police conducted a forensic examination of the computer, searching all of her files and emails for references to Chaz Green.
Miller's family is convinced that Green killed Caitlin on purpose. The evidence unearthed by investigators does not seem to bear out that claim. But changes in Green's story—such as his original claim that he was chasing Caitlin when he collided with her vs. his later claim that he was on his way to his mother's house—don't look good either.
What the investigation did definitively produce is a document of Green's recklessness, infidelity and bad judgment. When looking at the evidence against Chaz Green—from his juvenile dalliances with the law and envy-fueled temper, to frightening the young women in his life with gasoline-powered threats—it seems surprising that he made it this far without hurting anybody.
Unfortunately for prosecuting attorney Carey Thompson, much of the testimony regarding Green's previous threatening acts has been thrown out after motions filed by his attorney Jim Todd.
"Chaz Green, whatever you want to say about him, is a high school graduate with a job and no prior criminal record [as an adult]." Todd also points out Green's strong record of community service, though much of it was court-ordered. Todd emphasizes that his client is "not charged with an intentional act.... This was a tragic accident. It's tragic that [Caitlin's] dead at such a young age, with such a long life ahead of her. It's tragic for her family, it's tragic for Chaz Green's family. It's a tragic accident, but it's just that, an accident."
Whether he is found guilty in a criminal court or not, Green and his family will still have to contend with the $5 million civil suit brought by Caitlin's family. The suit names Chaz as well as both of his parents and claims negligence, emotional distress and, of course, recklessness.
Whatever the outcome of all these legal machinations, it will never be enough for Miller's family and friends.
"I didn't get to have any ceremonies with her," says her mother. "Never got to see her graduate high school or walk her down the aisle, or my grandchildren"—here she begins to weep openly.
"I'll probably never have my answers. Never."
Good for you for being you.
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