A Jackson County man who crashed into an Ohio couple’s car last year along U.S. 23/441, seriously injuring both, must serve active time in prison, District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch said Tuesday. Travis Aron Zepeda, 24, who at various times has listed home addresses in both Cherokee and Glenville, pleaded guilty last week to two counts felony serious injury by motor vehicle in connection with the April 1, 2019, wreck. Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Bradley B. Letts sentenced Zepeda in Jackson County Superior Court to a minimum of 19 months in prison and a maximum of 32 months. He must undergo substance-abuse and mental-health treatments and participate in job training. After the wreck, N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper D.J. Brooks found a small container under Zepeda’s 2002 Mercury Sable. It contained about 6 grams of methamphetamine. Laboratory analysis of blood and urine samples from Zepeda showed the presence of methamphetamine and amphetamine, confirming his impairment.
The couple, Don and Ellen Morrison of Batavia, Ohio, at that time were each 70 years old. In a victim-impact statement, Don Morrison, who suffered four fractured ribs and lacerations, said he found recovering from the accident tough going.
“I was on an all-time emotional low for several months,” he said. Ellen Morrison was flown by helicopter to Mission Hospital in Asheville with internal bleeding, lacerations and additional severe bleeding.
A short time before the wreck, witnesses saw Zepeda driving recklessly on Mill Street in Sylva. Once on U.S. 23/441 – speeding 70-80 mph southbound along a stretch of the four-lane highway posted at 55 mph – he drove between two other cars, also southbound.
Zepeda ran off the pavement on the right side of the highway. He crossed the grass median and clipped a 2015 Freightliner tractor-trailer truck.
His car crashed almost head on into the Morrisons’ northbound 2016 BMW. Zepeda’s car overturned onto its side. He suffered minor injuries.
Jackson County Assistant District Attorney Andy Buckner prosecuted the case.