Tennessee authorities have charged 42-year-old Patricke Conley with murdering Dustin and Brittany Dillard and fatally injuring their three boys after driving under the influence and violently crashing into the family’s truck on Christmas Day.
The Cleveland man was incarcerated on Wednesday at the Bradley County Jail and charged with two counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.
Conley appeared in court for the first time since his arrest on Thursday afternoon and declined to plead guilty to the murders.
Conley was not represented by an attorney and arrived for his hearing in a wheelchair wearing an orange jumper from the Department of Correction with a freshly gashed face.
Bradley County General Sessions Court Judge Clay Collins told the court to “keep your emotions together.” He added that these can be trying times, and he understood the range of emotions on “all sides of cases like these.”
According to an arrest report, there was alcohol involved in the fatal collision. First responders noticed “a strong stench of an alcoholic beverage” in the suspect’s car and “many Bud Light beer cans” strewn about his Isuzu Ascender SUV.
The Isuzu had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage in the driver’s compartment, and there were numerous Bud Light beer cans scattered throughout the crash scene.
Highway Patrol affidavit
The report also said that Conley was driving west on U.S. Highway 64 when he went off the road and collided with a mailbox on I-64 in Bradley County.
He crossed two lanes of traffic into the grassy median, flew up a steep hill and slammed into Dillards’ Jeep Wagoneer.
According to a Tennessee Highway Patrol affidavit, Brittany was in the passenger seat, and their three sons were in the back seat. Dustin and Brittany were both killed in the accident, while the children “suffered serious bodily injuries.”
A witness claimed that after hearing the boys scream, he and his girlfriend’s father ran to the family’s flipped car.
The witness said he had his handgun in his pocket and took the “butt of it and smashed the window.”
The two attempted to release the children, and one of them cut up his hand in the process. But their efforts were unsuccessful, and they were forced to wait for authorities’ assistance.
“I wish I could have done more. It’s just really sad,” the witness said. “I really feel for their family.”
Conley was also charged with drunk driving, having an open container and violating his probation. He was previously sentenced to eight years in prison on drug charges.
Conley will be required to wear an ankle monitor and submit to weekly drug tests if he posts the $500,000 bond set by the judge.
Bradley County Schools said on behalf of the family that the Dillard boy’s conditions are improving. All three are anticipated to have a “positive prognosis in the upcoming weeks.”
A lifetime of service
The 33-year-old Dustin Dillard and Brittany Dillard tied the knot in 2010. Brittany was a science teacher at Walker Valley High School. People who knew her and her husband say they lived a life of service to others.
Renee Curry, who met the Dillards in a store checkout line in 2020, said the Dillards’ strong faith inspired them to serve others, and it will be the legacy they leave behind for their three sons.
There are also social media posts referring to Dustin Dillard as a “selfless family” member and urging the public to keep praying for them.
Bradley County Schools issued a statement requesting privacy for the family. It says the family wishes to focus on creating a community of support for the children and “establishing privacy for grieving and healing.”
According to assistant principal John Burroughs, Walker Valley High School students will color a sizable rock to pay tribute to Brittany.
A Cleveland church has established the Dillard Family Trust to help three boys, Preston, Pierce, and Pryor, who their grandparents will raise.
Charleston Elementary STEAM Academy has also opened a donation account for the Dillard family at Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union.