William David Phillips, a 33-year-old Tennessee man, is accused of randomly swerving his Chevrolet Impala into pedestrians in Jefferson City, Tennessee and devastating a local family by killing a pregnant mother and her 2-year-old son.
According to the Jefferson City police, the victims were identified as Sierra Wilson Cahoon, 30, of Jefferson City, her son Nolan Cahoon, 2, and her unborn child. They “were deceased at the scene on West Main Street. An unidentified employee located within the building sustained minor injuries,” the police press release said.
The police say that, in addition to killing the Cahoons, Phillips also struck another person, who survived. The motive is not yet clear.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Accuse the Suspect of an ‘Intentional Act of Violence Toward Randomly Chosen Pedestrians’
The police press release described a horrific sequence of crash scenes.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. on June 17, 2019, JCPD officers responded “to a motor vehicle crash involving a pedestrian in the area of West Main St. and Russell Ave.,” the police wrote.
“Once on scene officers discovered a single vehicle lodged within a building and two pedestrians that had apparently been struck. First responders then learned of another crash scene on East Main Street where an additional pedestrian had been struck,” said the release. The struck store was an ornamental fish store.
The pedestrians from the West Main St. scene “were found to be deceased while the pedestrian from the East Main St. scene was injured and transported to a local hospital,” according to the release.
“Officers also discovered that an employee located within the building had been injured and transported to a local hospital for treatment. One suspect has been taken into custody. The JCPD crash response team and members of the criminal investigation division are currently investigating.”
2. Police Are Accusing William David Phillips, Who Posted About Nature Challenges on Facebook, of First Degree Murder
On Facebook, William Phillips, who goes by the name Will Phillips, didn’t post much – at least not that which is visible to the general public. He posted photos showing him with his nephew and a graphic saying, “I stand with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.” In 2016, he wrote about going on a nature challenge.
“Day 4 #7daynaturechallenge I forgot to post one yesterday. So, getting back to it…” he wrote. “Day 3 #7daynaturechallenge Here’s a photo of an old favorite photo I found. That’s my Dad, standing by one last spot of sunlight.”
Relatives and friends commented on several of his photos over the years, and he wrote that he was single and from Jefferson City. Under one photo showing Phillips with his nephew, a friend asked if he had a kid. “Hahaha no! That’s my nephew… I probably should’ve added a caption…” he responded. He liked Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama’s pages on Facebook. He had checked in at Devil’s Lake State Park and Glacier National Park. His likes included Toy Story, Into the Wild, the Godfather, the Beatles, and The Office. In short, there is nothing visible on his Facebook page to indicate such a future.
According to the police press release, “the driver of the vehicle was taken into custody yesterday evening immediately following the two pedestrian related crashes. He has been identified as William David Phillips, 33, of Jefferson City.”
Phillips was transported to the Jefferson County Justice Center where “he was charged with two counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted first degree murder,” police said.
“The preliminary investigation has revealed that this was an intentional act of violence toward randomly chosen pedestrians. Investigators have determined that Phillips did not know the victims.”
A search of court records for Jefferson and neighboring counties did not turn up a criminal history for Phillips.
3. Evidence Shows That William Phillips ‘Swerved’ Before Striking the Pedestrians, Police Say
Phillips was “traveling west on East Main St. where he swerved and intentionally struck a pedestrian,” said police.
“He then traveled less than a mile where again swerved and intentionally struck the next two victims at the Russell Ave. and West Main St. intersection.”
Tillman Gunter, 61, of Jefferson City was the other victim. Gunter “was struck at the East Main Street location. He was transported to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries,” the police press release stated.
“JCPD detectives expect to file an additional first degree murder charge later today. JCPD investigators are working closely with the 4th Judicial District Attorney Generals Office and the THP Critical Incident Response Team.”
4. Sierra Cahoon Was Married to an Assistant Athletic Trainer
The school’s website describes it as follows: “Our mission as Christian educators is to help our students reach their full potential as educated citizens and worldwide servant-leaders.”
The school’s Athletics Promotions page shared a photo of the Cahoons with this statement:
It is with heavy hearts that we announce a terrible tragedy within our Carson-Newman family. One of our athletic trainers, Matt Cahoon, lost his wife, Sierra, and his two year old son yesterday afternoon. Our Carson-Newman Athletics and University family are heartbroken of this tragic loss. During this time of need, we are here for Matt and we are here to support the Wilson/Cahoon family.
A fund at the University has been established to benefit the Cahoon family. Those wishing to contribute, may give online to “The Randall and Kay O’Brien Benevolent Fund” at: http://www.cn.edu/cahoonfamilyfund
Donations may also be given by calling the University at 865-471-3233.
The school is located close to the crash site. On Facebook, Sierra described herself as “Lover of all things sweet & southern. Beach bum at heart. Interior Designer. Christian. Wife. Momma.”
She wrote that she studied Interior design at High Point University, went to Hereford High School (Maryland), and lived in Jefferson City, Tennessee.
5. The Cahoon Family Loved to Go on Walks Together
Friends told WVLT-TV that the Cahoon family enjoyed going on walks together.
“She loved being physically active, she was passionate for it. She had so much love for Matt and so much love for Nolan. She loved him more than anything in the world,” Jocelyn Zemanek told the television station.
Sierra’s neighbor, Kristen Johnson, said of the family: “They would walk all the time. And oftentimes as a family — the three of them would walk together.”