Former Knoxville Officer Gets Plea Deal in Fatal Accident

By: Brian Gregory Email
By: Brian Gregory Email

Knoxville (WVLT) - The collision was violent. The in-cruiser video proves that.

Officer Donnie McClendon was driving on Magnolia, responding to a call on April 18th, 2004. The police investigation showed his emergency lights were on, but not his siren.

At the intersection of Beamon Street, he collided with a car driven by 58-year-old Jennie Watts.

Mrs. Watts died, her two nephews were injured.

More than three years later, McClendon was in court, now retired.

McClendon pleaded no contest today to three charges including vehicular manslaughter.

If he stays out of trouble for three years, it will be erased from his record.

Watts' family says that's fine with them.

Nothing changed today for Jennie's husband, Leroy.

"Goin' on with my life, missing, wishing. Whatever. But that won't change things either,” says Jennie Watts' husband Leroy Watts.

As Leroy deals with losing Jennie, Donald McClendon deals with living. "If it could have been me, absolutely. I preferred it to be. You know, because I gotta live with this.”

"This" is that Sunday morning in April 2004, as Jennie was on her way to meet Leroy at church when the police cruiser driven by the on-duty officer crashed into her car.

"I don't hold any resentment or hatred or nothing like that towards him. So what's done is done,” says Watts.

Jennie was also the mother to a forgiving daughter.

"I know he didn't do it on purpose. I know it wasn't intentional. He made a bad choice that cost my mother's life and could have possibly cost my cousins' their life,” says Sherineta Morrison, Jennie's daughter.

Sherineta says she's fine with the plea deal but knows that the biggest sentence one can have is what we have to live with in our hearts and minds.

"I'm just really wanting peace out of the situation for both sides of our family. So, I'm fine with it,” she says. "I've had several people tell me that he wanted to speak with me and my family. And we're very much open to it."

She'd no sooner told us that when she put her words into action as her open arms signaled the beginning of forgiving and healing all in one embrace.

The sight of that embrace would lead one to believe that Jennie Bell Watts, the mother, wife and grandmother who was on her way to church that Sunday morning, is also at peace with this decision.


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