12-year-old Killed in Off-Road Accident; Driver Charged

Posted at 10:53 PM, Feb 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-12 23:53:57-05

After a 12-year-old girl is killed in an off road-accident, her friend's father, who was behind the wheel, is now in jail.

It happened Friday night at 11:30 p.m. at Wheelin' in the Country in Summertown. Thomas Ruggeri, 50, arrived with his 14-year-old daughter and her 12 year old friend, Arika Long, inside his modified Jeep.  While out on a ride, they hit a rock and their vehicle flipped. 

“They weren’t belted in and she [Arika] was thrown from the vehicle,” said Capt. Adam Brewer, at the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department. “The vehicle landed on top of her.  She was under there around 30 minutes before she could be transported to the hospital.”

Capt. Brewer said the remote location delayed the arrival of first responders.

Long was airlifted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center where she later died from her injuries. The 14-year-old girl received minor injuries.

Capt. Brewer said no one in the vehicle was wearing a seatbelt.

“If they had been belted in, this probably would not have been as major as it was,” said Capt. Brewer.

Ruggeri was arrested after deputies found marijuana pipes in his possession. He has since been charged with vehicular homicide, operating a vehicle under the influence, and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was being held in the Lawrence County Jail without bond.

Wheelin’ in the Country posted a statement on Facebook that said:

We at Wheelin' In The Country would like to take a moment to express our deepest condolences to the families that have suffered a great tragedy this weekend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families during this difficult time.”

Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputies said Wheelin' in the Country is a popular place that attracts visitors from around the area. The said it was extremely rare to respond to an emergency at the site.

Capt. Brewer said he believed the tragedy could have been prevented.

“People up there operating those vehicles, its dangerous already,” said Capt. Brewer.  “They don’t need to do it under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Long’s family with expenses.