Swain County, N.C., emergency medical service responders might not have notified police that a low-lying metal cable someone placed almost hidden across a dirt path gravely injured Shane Hamilton while he was riding his ATV in the western North Carolina woods on July 3, documents shows.
Nor does it appear that Swain County Sheriff’s Office deputies and detectives went to the crash scene until the day after Hamilton died and two days after he was injured.
Hamilton, who lived in Key Largo, died July 4 at 12:30 p.m. in an Asheville, N.C., hospital at age 45, according to a North Carolina Chief Medical Examiner’s Office report released this week.
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 made a point to note: “There was no police notification from reports by EMS.”
Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran said several times, including in a face-to-face interview with The Keynoter/Reporter, that the matter is now “civil” and out of the hands of his agency. Cochran did not respond to an e-mail this week asking him if he is still not going to investigate Hamilton’s death following 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. At the time of the crash, there were no signs indicating that the trail is on private property.
David Breedlove, coordinator for the Swain County EMS, did not return several e-mailed questions about Hamilton’s crash. He said in an interview on July 7 with this newspaper 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.
Deputy J.D. Woodard, the first law enforcement officer to arrive at the scene of Hamilton’s death, wrote in his report that two days went by before he received word about the crash. He “answered a call” on July 5 “where an ATV accident had occurred on 07/03/2014.” Woodard was told by Jim Clayton, the man from whom Hamilton rented his cabin with his wife and two children, that Swain County EMS was called the day of the accident and that Hamilton was airlifted to Memorial Mission Hospital in nearby Asheville.
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.”
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 express intent of riding ATVs, his friend Mark Page said. Page and Hamilton were business partners. He owns Page Excavating in Key Largo.
He said Hamilton specifically rented Clayton’s cabin after thoroughly researching ATV-friendly locations.
Clayton told the Keynoter/Reporter he has owned his cabin for 14 years, and the surrounding trails have been ATV and hiking hotspots for as long as he’s been there. He was on the trail where Hamilton crashed in January and the cable was not there, he said.