The Tennessee Highway Patrol admitted on Saturday that officials identified the wrong man accused of stealing a car, leading police on a high-speed chase, and causing a crash that left a mother dead in Murfreesboro on Friday.
Original reports released the name of Demario Watkins as the suspect in the crimes, but officials sent out an update on Saturday stating that the suspect was actually Garieon Simmons of Decherd.
NewsChannel 5 spoke exclusively to Watkins and his mother, Dietra Hockett, about the ordeal.
"This here has taken a toll on my family," Hockett said.
Hockett received a call from a family member Saturday morning asking if what she saw on the news was true, that Hockett's son, Demario, was in the hospital after stealing a car, leading police on a chase, and in the process, killing a mother.
Hockett was in shock, and after being unable to reach her son and looking online, she feared the worst.
"It's on Facebook, you Google his name, high speed chase, he comes up," Hockett explained. "It's terrible."
Hockett called Vanderbilt University Medical Center to confirm her son was flown by helicopter to the hospital for treatment, and the hospital did confirm he was there, but released to police.
The hospital had Watkins' name, his birthday, and even his social security number. The problem being, Watkins was never there, he was at work from 2 p.m. on Friday until 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, which covers the time of the chase, crash, and entirety of the on-site investigation.
"I don't know how I could commit any crimes while at work, it's pretty hard with 15 minute breaks, you know?" Watkins joked in frustration.
Hockett was eventually able to get ahold of her son over the phone, but because he didn't know about the reports, he was caught off guard.
"I answered, she was crying," Watkins said. "I thought something bad happened in the family, but it was about me."
According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Garieon Simmons of Decherd, who allegedly led police on the chase and caused the fatal crash, told police he was Demario Watkins following the crash.
Hockett said while anyone can lie about their identity, police should have confirmed his identity before releasing any information to the public or the media. Hockett said police told her that they were never able to recover an ID from Simmons, he spelt Watkins' name wrong numerous times while giving it to police, and they don't share a likeness, and Watkins is in the police database, so Hockett believes they should have been able to compare the man to a picture of her son.
Watkins said he has no idea how or why Simmons would have used his name while talking to police.
"Never heard of him before, never seen him," Watkins said. "The whole time I'm thinking he had my ID or something, cause how would he even give my first and last name?"
Frustration also mounted for the family because they said this is not the first time Watkins has been wrongly arrested or blamed by police. Previously, he was arrested for a crime he did not commit, but was found guilty because he had no way to disprove the charges. Another time, he was arrested for a mistaken identity, and later released.
The family is now talking with an attorney to see if there is a way to clear Watkins' name and bring the family justice.
"I'm just upset with the officers for not doing their job right," Watkins said.
Hockett agreed with her son, saying, "Somebody's carelessness has taken a life and my son has been labeled for it. I can't let that go."
The family said one of the hardest things about this situation is knowing the family of the mother who was killed was told that Watkins was the one who caused the fatal accident that took the young woman's life. Watkins is hoping to reach out to the family of the young mother to send his apologies for what happened, and to clear his name.
Officials with the Tennessee Highway Patrol said on Saturday that they are looking into the matter, as well as a county commissioner.