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Prosecutors say DNA links Driver to scene
Gary Driver1.jpg
Gary Driver is shown at his preliminary hearing Thursday. His case was bound to the grand jury. - photo by Lisa Hobbs

Blood evidence links a Chevrolet Z71 to the hit-and-run death of Mildred Herrin, according to prosecutors.

A preliminary hearing was held Thursday for Gary Driver, 49. He was arrested and charged with criminal homicide and leaving the scene of an accident that took the life of Herrin, 71, in May at her home on Swan Mill Road.

Among the testimony presented before Judge Bill Locke was that of state trooper Rodney Whiles and TBI specialist agent Charly Castelbuono, who tested swabs submitted by Whiles.

“I did obtain a DNA profile from two of the swabs submitted,” said Castelbuono. “The DNA profile obtained was that of Mildred Herrin.”

Whiles testified that he collected the swabs from Driver’s red Chevy pickup along with District Attorney investigator Stuart Colwell, who also testified Thursday that “strands of hair” were found on the exterior of the truck and visible were “reddish brown stains” which he believed to be blood.

The truck was located in a wooded area off Oris Sain Road in Grundy County.

The TBI was sent those swabs, said Whiles, as well as fingerprints taken from the vehicle, samples of the victim’s clothing, blood samples taken from Mrs. Herrin, and cheek swabs taken from Driver. 

The hair was sent to the FBI for analysis. Test results on the hair were not presented Thursday. 

Whiles was questioned about the TBI’s initial rejection of the samples he submitted.

“Everything was individually bagged and sealed,” said Whiles. “I placed those bags into one bag and sealed it. The TBI refused to accept it. All the samples needed to be submitted individually.”

The trooper stated he documented the process taken in unsealing the bag and resubmitting the samples individually. 

During her testimony, Castelbuono stated her belief that cross contamination of the samples would not have occurred as long as the items were bagged individually.

Judge Bill Locke was also shown two surveillance videos from a neighbor’s home security system which captured the intersection of Grove Road and Swan Mill Road, just down from the Herrin residence: 

• The first video depicted a red truck passing the Grove Road residence at 5:16 p.m. on May 11. 

• The second video had a time stamp of 5:20 p.m. on May 11. It depicted a red truck coming from Swan Mill Road and taking a right onto Grove Road. 

The neighbor, John Hartle, testified that to his knowledge the day and time stamp on his surveillance system is accurate. No evidence was presented that the red truck in the video was of that of Driver. 

Two of Driver’s friends testified he was at the home of Kelly Lynn on Oris Sain Road in Grundy County during that four-minute timeframe.

Lynn testified Driver was with him from the morning of May 11 until 6:15 p.m. The two, he said, were joined by Trent Hillis at 1 p.m. and Mike Cummings at 4 p.m. and everyone left the residence at 6:15 p.m. when Lynn’s girlfriend arrived home.

Lynn stated that Driver admitted to him that he “screwed up” and wrecked his truck.

Hillis testified that he brought with him three fast food burgers for himself, Driver and Lynn and “a couple 6 packs of beer” to share. He gave an “educated guess” that Driver drank three of those beers.

In a written statement taken from Hillis by Sheriff Tommy Myers on May 12, Hillis recalled that Driver left the residence at approximately 4 p.m. and returned 45 minutes later. Upon returning, Hillis described Driver’s state as “distraught” and him “walking around in circles” and making comments of messing up, losing control of his truck and entering a yard.

“With him being in that state of mind, I decided to take Gary home,” said Hillis, who stated his belief Driver was not intoxicated but he was having “mental issues.” 

After two hours of testimony, Judge Locke ruled there was enough probable cause to send the case against Gary Driver to the Warren County grand jury.