Victim's family hopes to see changes made

Jan. 06, 2013 @ 11:00 AM

For Wayne Keown, once known to fans of professional wrestling as Dutch Mantel, the death of a beloved granddaughter has led to a real-life battle that’s called on his skill at getting a point across in an interview and other skills he didn’t know he had.

Amelia Keown, his 16-year-old granddaughter, died Aug. 14 in a wreck on Highway 411 in Blount County. “She was at school and she was going to come home and get her pom poms,” he said. “She thought her dance teacher would be mad at her.”

She told her mother, Amanda, as she was leaving school. Her mom sent a text saying to be careful.

Just a few minutes after that, another driver crossed 411 and struck her car head-on. Amelia was killed, and the second driver, 44-year-old John C. Perkins, died the next day.

At first, Amelia’s family believed it was just a tragic accident. But they quickly learned that Perkins had been released early from prison despite a lengthy criminal record. Blood tests reportedly showed he had a near toxic level of oxycodone in his system at the time of the wreck, and meth as well.

Wayne Keown and Amelia’s mother were outraged. They believe a flaw system allowed Perkins to be out of prison and driving — instead of behind bars and off the roads.

“Our problem with this is, this guy was a lifetime criminal,” Wayne Keown said. “I told my daughter there’s something wrong with this situation.”

Perkins was serving a 12-year sentence. He was let out after serving four years. Even after his release, he was still committing crimes. He had been caught for shoplifting, and placed on probation, Keown said.

“You have a guy not only on parole but on probation at the same time. I don’t know how that works. He didn’t fear jail.”

They’ve found records showing what they believe are additional errors made by probation and parole officials in his case.

Since learning about Perkins’s background, Wayne has been raising funds all around Tennessee by getting his fellow grapplers to put on events. He's been speaking out to anyone who will listen about the flaws they believe cost Amelia her life. He hopes to see the laws strengthened, and they’re calling the changes Amelia’s Law. Local legislators, including Doug Overbey, are working to move the changes along.

Amelia’s family hopes to see the laws tightened for repeat offenders, and especially people who drive while intoxicated.

Wayne Keown acknowledges prisons are already overcrowded, but he thinks the state needs to reconsider how it sentences criminals so that violent or dangerous criminals stay in prison longer — and so that they complete the sentences imposed by judges.

“We’ve got to take the road away from them. You need to put them in where they can’t get out.”