Nine witnesses recall July 13, 2002

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 16, 2008

WINTON – Nine individuals involved in the immediate aftermath of Tyrelle Overton’s death testified here Thursday where a murder trial entered its fourth day.

Overton, 20, was shot and killed in Ahoskie in July of 2002.

After a lengthy investigation, Eric Alan Oakes, then 20, was one of two men arrested and charged with first degree murder, attempted robbery and kidnapping. He is now on trial for taking Overton’s life.

Three of Thursday morning’s witnesses were sitting in their vehicles at a red light at the intersection of Catherine Creek Road and Memorial Drive, where the events that apparently led to Overton’s death began.

Herman G. Harmon Jr. and Cathleine Parker were two of those witnesses.

Each was driving a vehicle in the outside turn lane on Catherine Creek Road, waiting to turn left onto Memorial Drive.

Harmon said his was the third vehicle in line in his lane and he testified that he observed a gold-colored van in the front of the inside lane followed by a burgundy car.

“I was sitting there waiting for the light and I saw a guy get out of his vehicle and walk up to the van.

He was walking straight up and his hand was down, like he had something in his hand, but I couldn’t see what it was,” he stated.

Harmon continued, “Then the two men started talking and the light changed and then he got into the van.

It went on around the intersection and I saw it turn into the Golden Corral parking lot.”

District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell inquired as to whether Harmon would describe the turn into the Golden Corral was abrupt and Harmon replied in the affirmative.

On cross-examination, David Sutton, an attorney for Oakes, asked if Harmon had heard any gunshots or seen a gun.

Harmon replied, “No, I didn’t look that way anymore after I saw the two vehicles pull in the Golden Corral parking lot; I just went on about my business.”

Sutton further inquired, “Do you remember telling a policeman that Overton’s complexion looked kind of like Andre Britt who worked at Lowe’s?”

Harmon confirmed that he did and later clarified that what he meant by that was the color of his skin.

Britt, who reportedly drove a yellow Cavalier, is scheduled to testify next week.

The week before Overton’s death, Oakes and his co-defendant, Joseph Forehand, were allegedly robbed at gunpoint by two men in a yellow Cavalier at Chubbie’s in Ahoskie.

In opening statements by Sutton, he noted that Oakes believed Overton was one of those men and that he was only attempting to reclaim his stolen property.

Barber’s vehicle was behind Harmon at the stoplight and also witnessed part of the incident.

She was furthermore able to identify the burgundy car as either a Chrysler Sebring or a Dodge Stratus.

“It was one or the other of those, because they had the same body style at the time.

I’m familiar with the make because I used to own one,” she noted.

Barber also witnessed more of the incident than did Harmon.

“I saw both cars turn quickly into the Golden Corral, then midway down the building I saw the driver jump out of the van and run, but that was all I saw before my car was out of the line of sight,” she stated.

She and Harmon both described the driver of the van as a black male and the man who had gotten out of the burgundy car and into the van as a white male.

Janelle Smith was the passenger in a vehicle directly behind the gold van and the burgundy car.

She also witnessed a white male get out of the burgundy car and into the van.

“He had a black badge or wrap around his right arm, but I didn’t see his right hand.

I saw him get out of the car and walk up to the van on the passenger side,” she stated.

Smith continued, “Then I saw the vehicles turn into the Golden Corral and saw the driver of the van jump out.

Then I saw somebody, a white male, running behind him.

The black male was running toward the Golden Corral door.”

On cross-examination, Sutton asked, “Do you know if the same man who was chasing the black male was the one who was in the van?”

Smith replied, “Well no, but who else would it have been?”

Sutton also confirmed that Smith did not see or hear any gunshots.

Ernest Blowe, 70, was the only witness who has testified so far that saw the whole incident from beginning to end.

Blowe was selling his produce out of the back of his pickup truck, stationed in the Red Apple parking lot next to the Golden Corral.

“I saw a man get in a van at the intersection and I heard them (the two men) arguing from where I was at.

Then the man buying a watermelon from me said he heard a shot about the time the van pulled in the parking lot,” he stated.

Blowe testified that the van passed him as it turned into the Golden Corral parking lot and that he saw two men inside, one black and one white.

He continued, “The van went on and ran into the back of a pickup truck and the driver jumped out of the van and ran into the Golden Corral and the other boy ran and jumped into the car behind the Red Apple.”

Asked to clarify what happened in between, he demonstrated with his thumb and forefinger extended that he had seen the white male pointing “like that” at the black man with something in his hand and that he then heard a gun go off.

“As the colored guy was getting out of the van, that’s when he (the white male) was pointing and then I heard the gun go off.

He was already out (of) the van (then),” Blowe stated.

He continued, “Then I saw the colored guy run into the Golden Corral and fall into the door.”

Using a large diagram of the area, Blowe pointed out to the jury the path the two men and two vehicles had taken.

“The black male ran from the middle of the Golden Corral on the right to the front door and the red car had gone on behind the Red Apple.

After the colored guy ran into the Golden Corral, that’s when the white man ran and jumped in the car,” he explained.

Blowe added that nothing was blocking his view of the scene and that he could see everything clearly.

On cross-examination, Blowe appeared to become confused and gave conflicting statements.

Upon questioning, Blowe denied making a statement to an SBI agent that the suspect he had seen was 5’-4” with a mustache, wearing khaki pants and sunglasses.”

Looking at the defendant and nodding, Blowe stated, “No I didn’t say that, he was taller than that.”

Blowe said that he was certain the van had hit the pickup truck before the two men inside got out.

He also stated that he had heard two shots, but later said that there were three.

“I heard shots before they got out and before it hit the pickup truck.

I saw them struggling over something in the van and then more shots after,” he noted.

Sutton inquired, “Why didn’t you tell the agent when you were questioned that you heard shots in the van?”

Blowe responded, “They didn’t ask me.”

Later, he also stated, “I saw him (the white male) point toward his (the black male) back and heard a gun go off, but I don’t know if it hit him.”

On Thursday afternoon, the state called five, non-law enforcement individuals who, in various ways, became intertwined with the events surrounding Overton’s death on July 13, 2002.

Anthony Chamblee, who worked at the Ahoskie Golden Corral in July of 2002, testified he was exiting a detached storage shed, located at the rear of the restaurant property, when he saw a van, later discovered driven by Overton, enter the restaurant parking lot from Memorial Drive at an excessive rate of speed.

“I dropped the grease containers I had in my hands (ones he had just retrieved from the shed) and hauled butt towards the back door (of the restaurant),” Chamblee said.

Chamblee said he then heard a big “kaboom.”

“I looked back and saw a car over at the Red Apple (now Trade Wilco) swerving around,” he said.

Chamblee also testified that he saw the passenger’s side door of the van open, but witnessed no one inside. He then learned that Overton was lying in the front entrance of the restaurant.

Under cross-examination by Sutton, Chamblee was asked if he saw anyone get out of the van, to which he answered “no.”

Jacqueline Ward, formerly of Ahoskie now residing in Durham, was the state’s next witness. Ward testified she was riding with her son on the afternoon of July 13, 2002 and they entered the parking lot behind the old Red Apple (the entrance off South Catherine Creek Road) in an effort to access the Golden Corral parking lot (the two lots are joined and accessible to each other).

“We were almost sideswiped by a raspberry-colored car,” Ward said, regarding their “back” entrance to the parking lot.

Ward went on to say that she was entering Golden Corral (there to purchase gift certificates) when she saw a young black man lying in the doorway.

“He was rasping for air like he was trying to catch his breath,” Ward recalled. “I asked him if he was okay, but he didn’t answer.”

Ward testified that she then entered the main portion of the restaurant in an effort to let someone know of the condition of the man who had apparently collapsed at the door.

“There was nobody at the door when you first saw Tyrelle Overton,” Sutton asked while cross-examining Ward.

“No,” she replied.

Gary Wobbleton, then the assistant manager at Lowes Foods of Ahoskie, testified that on July 13, 2002 he was standing in the main parking lot of the supermarket talking with his parents who were visiting him that day.

As a volunteer fireman, Wobbleton said he wears a pager/radio and that device alerted him to a “10-50” (motor vehicle accident) on Memorial Drive in front of Golden Corral (located across the street from his store).

“I walked over towards Golden Corral and noticed no wreck on Memorial Drive,” Wobbleton said. “I then walked into the Golden Corral parking lot where I saw a vehicle near the back of the lot. I was then told by Scott Wolfe (the Golden Corral owner) that there was a person lying at the front door of the restaurant.”

Wobbleton said he made his way to that person, noting he was lying face down.

“I noted the strong smell of urine and saw blood coming from his mouth,” Wobbleton testified. “I called for immediate medical help and the police.”

Wobbleton said he attempted to talk to the young man, but received no response. He added that he remained with the young man until emergency responders arrived, saying his whole ordeal lasted about 7-to-8 minutes.

The first emergency responder on the scene was Dr. Louis (Lou) Velazquez, a member of the Ahoskie Rescue Squad who arrived by private vehicle.

“Dr Lou asked me to help him turn the young man over (from his stomach to his back),” Wobbleton recalled. “We saw a red spot about middle way his chest. Dr. Lou cut the young man’s t-shirt and we saw a big hole in the middle of his chest.”

Wobbleton said CPR was administered and he helped load the man onto a stretcher and then assisted the Ahoskie Rescue Squad by driving the ambulance to Roanoke-Chowan Hospital.

Under cross-examination by Sutton, Wobbleton was asked if the radio report mentioned a gunshot victim, to which he answered, “no.”

“Did you know the young man had been shot,” quizzed Sutton.

“No,” was Wobbleton’s reply.

“Did you see blood where the body was (after it was moved),” Sutton inquired.

“Yes, spots where his mouth and chest were,” Wobbleton answered.

Dr. Velazquez was the next to testify, verifying that Wobbleton was with the young man upon his arrival.

“We rolled him (Overton) over to establish an airway,” Velazquez said upon being interviewed by District Attorney Asbell. “I saw the red spot on his t-shirt. I lifted the t-shirt and saw a wound in the middle of his chest; I knew it was a gunshot wound.”

Assisted by Wobbleton, the two men turned Overton back onto his stomach.

“I lifted up his shirt again and it appeared there was a gunshot wound in his back,” Dr. Velazquez said. “The one in the back appeared smaller than the one in the front. I then alerted a police officer (standing nearby) that this man has been shot.”

In his cross-examination, Sutton inquired if Dr. Velazquez had any training in forensic medicine, to which the answer was “no.”

“You thought the wound in the chest was an exit wound,” Sutton asked.

“Based on my training (Velazquez is a former New York City paramedic and retired as a U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Team member), I made a field assessment that it was an exit wound,” the witness answered.

Wolfe also testified Thursday afternoon. Upon questioning from Assistant District Attorney Assata Buffaloe, Wolfe recalled a woman coming into the Golden Corral on the afternoon of July 13, 2002 with information about a man collapsed at the front door of the restaurant and that a vehicle had been involved in an accident in the parking lot.

“I went to the young man at the door, he was having trouble breathing,” Wolfe said.

When asked if he saw any blood near the young man, Wolfe said he did, in several spots on the floor.