Swain County sheriff’s deputies did not go to the scene of an all-terrain vehicle crash that killed a Florida man until two days after the incident, documents show.
Shane Hamilton, 45, was operating the ATV on a wooded trail July 3 when he hit a cable slung over the path about a foot off the ground. He died the next day at a hospital in Asheville, about 65 miles away.
Friends and family suspect foul play, but law enforcement officials ruled it an accident and refuse to reopen the investigation.
Deputy J.D. Woodard, who investigated the crash, wrote in his report that he did not learn about incident until July 5 when he received a call.
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A local resident who rented a cabin to Hamilton and his family told Woodard about the accident and said Hamilton had been taken to the hospital.
According to Swain County Detective C.P. Posey’s July 8 report, she never went to the scene of the crash but she spoke with Woodard, who told her Hamilton’s family and friends were concerned the cable “had been placed across the road to intentionally harm people riding the trail.”
Dr. Robert Moffatt, the Buncombe County medical examiner, was notified of Hamilton’s death around 2 p.m. that day.
Moffatt examined Hamilton’s body at 9:30 a.m. July 5. The cause of death: “Massive abdominal injuries” inflicted by the cable. A toxicology report released Aug. 15 says Hamilton had no alcohol in his system.
Moffatt did not return a phone call left with his answering service asking him to explain some of the statements he wrote in his report. For instance, on the “Law Enforcement Agency” designation slot, he wrote “None!” It’s not clear why he punctuated the word with an exclamation point.
In the summary of the report, he noted: “There was no police notification from reports by EMS.”
Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran said several times, including in a face-to-face interview, that the matter is now “civil” and out of the hands of his agency. Cochran did not respond to an email this week asking him whether he is still not going to investigate Hamilton’s death after the release of Moffatt’s report.
But Hamilton’s friends and family want to know who placed the cable along the mountaintop trail. It is connected to two small portions of two separately owned properties, and it blocks access to a third. Each property is owned by different owners, and none is talking to the press.
David Breedlove, coordinator for the Swain County EMS, did not return emailed questions about Hamilton’s crash. He said in an interview July 7 that he never saw a cable when he responded to the crash.
“Word was there was a cable, but I didn’t see it,” Breedlove said.
But after a Keynoter/Reporter reporter and photographer visited the scene in late July, it is clear that first responders would have had to step over the cable to get to where Hamilton landed after he flew off his Yamaha ATV.
Although after reviewing county maps Posey determined the crash “occurred on private property.” She wrote that she did not know who owns the property where Hamilton was felled.
Nevertheless, on July 7 – just four days after Hamilton struck the cable, with only one deputy ever visiting the scene of the crash and without seeing Moffatt’s report – Cochran “determined that the incident is considered an accident, therefore no criminal action has occurred.”
Hamilton was in Swain County with his wife and children on vacation with the intent of riding ATVs, said his friend, Mark Page. Page and Hamilton were business partners in Page Excavating in Key Largo.
The Keynoter Reporter is owned by McClatchy and based in the Florida Keys.