Local News

Family: Clayton woman found in towed car likely died in crash

Posted April 3, 2013

— A Clayton woman whose body was found in her crashed car days after it was towed away suffered head and neck trauma and likely died in the crash, her family said Wednesday after talking with investigators.

The preliminary autopsy results quelled the family's concerns that Carolyn Ann Watkins, 62, might have been saved if someone had seen her in the car before it was towed from the crash scene.

Watkins' 2000 Pontiac Sunfire was found in a watery ditch, down a steep embankment off Swift Creek Road, about 4 miles southwest of Smithfield on Friday and was towed to an impound lot, according to a report from the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.

Trooper Marlon Williams, who ordered the car towed, said "no driver (was) at the scene of this collision" in his report. However, Smithfield police found the 62-year-old's body in the driver's seat three days later after family members reported her missing.

"They didn't do their job properly, and we want some answers," Watkins' son, Algernon Parker, said Tuesday.

The Highway Patrol didn't explain to the family why Watkins' wasn't seen in the car earlier. The state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon expressing regret for the situation.

Trooper M.D. Williams, missed dead woman's body in car Trooper who missed body in car placed on desk duty

“First and foremost, we offer our most sincere condolences to Carolyn Watkins’ family," Commissioner Frank Perry, who heads the department's Law Enforcement Division, said in the statement. "Our main concern is to conduct a thorough and professional investigation so we can determine exactly what happened."

The Highway Patrol has placed Williams on administrative duty with pay pending the outcome of an investigation by DPS. He has been with the Highway Patrol for nine years. Efforts to contact Williams at his Clayton home Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The State Bureau of Investigation announced Wednesday that it is doing a separate, independent investigation into Watkins' death and the trooper's actions.

The Sunfire was still at Dustin's Towing in Willow Spring on Tuesday. It was covered by a tarp, and company representatives said the Highway Patrol had told them not to discuss the case.

Watkins funeral is set for Saturday at St. John's Missionary Baptist Church in Maple Hill.


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  • TAKES_TO2_TANGO Apr 5, 2013

    The trooper could have easily missed seeing the body. She was unrestrained and probably lying in the passenger side floorboard, obstructed from view outside of the vehicle. A trooper would not put himself in danger tryin

    How is CHECKING the vehicle supposed to be dangerous to him??????

  • livinonfaith Apr 4, 2013

    I don't think you should fire an officer with a good record for one mistake, even one as bad as this one. (Although there are certainly a few things for which an officer should be immediately fired.)

    Hopefully, his superiors will look at his previous record first. If this is out of character for him, then he should be reprimanded, possibly even retrained, but given another chance. A good officer is valuable to society. A good officer who has made a serious mistake and has learned from it, is sometimes even more valuable. That officer really knows the lasting consequences that a moment of inattentiveness can cause.

    If, however, he has a history of carelessness or neglect, this may be the sign that he needs to try a new profession.

  • Barfly Apr 4, 2013

    "This Highway Patrol trooper did "NOT" do his job. How is the world could he not check inside the car to see if the driver was in there. He doesn't need to be on administrative duty drawing his paycheck. He needs to be fired for a serious failure to do his job. This does not reflect professionalism in the highway patrol. If they let this guy keep his job, this will set a terrible president in evaluating job performance. The Highway Partol has had it's share of problems, if they let this one ride, then they have not made any strides to restore their credibility. I am sory for the family's loss. They should not be happy their loved one was left in this vehicle for days after the crash even though it appeared it would have not changed the fact of her death." badnews777

    The trooper could have easily missed seeing the body. She was unrestrained and probably lying in the passenger side floorboard, obstructed from view outside of the vehicle. A trooper would not put himself in danger tryin

  • RM24 Apr 4, 2013

    The trooper is only guilty of not checking the car. It's not murder.

    That's like saying a dr is only responsible for the surgery. Doesn't matter if he removes the tools from the body before sewing it back up! Or like the hospital forgetting you were a patient. I mean we can assume a car that has an accident going down the road had a driver right? I mean I know some folks thinks that guns kill people but surely we can still assume people are driving the cars down the road. If a house burns down you just gonna assume no one was inside and not check?

  • RM24 Apr 4, 2013

    Anyone related to this accident should be fired and forced to go thru some sort of mental evaluation. How is your first thought when you see a accident not be "is everyone ok"? But yet this Trooper may keep his job and continue to use his judgement where clearly he didn't feel it necessary to check an accident scene for someone being injured? Wow is all I can say.

  • rmsmith Apr 4, 2013

    2alegal - just think if she was murdered and someone crashed her car. Later on, they took the body to the junk yard and placed it back inside. This would present the potential to sue all first responders, the county and NCSHP.

    Being a first responder myself, everyone that goes to car wrecks always looks inside to see what type of damage occured AND find their registration papers to fill out the paperwork NC Dept of Insurance requires of us

  • Good Bye WRAL Apr 4, 2013

    Who took the picture of the car in the ditch? It wasn't apparent to the photographer that someone was in there, either. I suspect Ms. Watkins was not wearing a seatbelt and perhaps was in the footwell of the car, maybe even on the passenger side? Several opportunities were missed. A tragedy, but not really sure if anyone should be sued. That's life.

  • 2alegal Apr 4, 2013

    I'm with you Smith. I was thinking the same thing. Stranger things have happened. Hopefully the SBI will answer a bunch of these questions. I notice the trooper hasn't commented and that is a good thing. Do not blotch the investigation. Good for HP for not speculating.........

  • tonycheeek Apr 4, 2013

    I`m sure the officer could have broken into the car if he saw something (he didn`t, no one did) or he had the families permission, that`s reasonable. Isn`t that how we want our officers to act, reasonable?

    Cut him some slack and put him back to work.

  • lissad821 Apr 4, 2013

    A few things are missing. Did she have Friday off from work? Why did her family wait to report her missin gon Monday, especially during Easter weekend? Did she live alone? Why did a neighbor take pictures of the car wreck? It's a sad situation all around. I'm very sorry for the family's loss. But suing isn't the answer, imo. If the autopsy showed she was alive then that's different but obviously she died on impact. I think the family jumped the gun when saying she was left alive for days instead of waiting for the offical report to come back. The trooper is only guilty of not checking the car. It's not murder.