Teen granted youthful offender status in deaths of Auburn announcer Rod Bramblett, wife Paula

By Carol Robinson | crobinson@al.com

The 18-year-old charged in the crash that killed Auburn announcer Rod Bramblett and his wife, Paula, has been granted youthful offender status.

Johnston Edward Taylor is charged with manslaughter in the May 25, 2019 deaths of the Brambletts.

The teen's bond was first revoked in December 2019 after got two speeding tickets and one reckless driving citation seven months after the deadly crash. He is still facing another possible bond revocation.

Due to the confidential status of youthful offender proceedings, his attorney, Tommy Spina, declined to comment on the ruling.

Lee County Circuit Judge P.B. McLauchlin, a retired judge handling the case, issued his order Tuesday. The order was made public at 4:24 p.m.

"At the time of the accident the defendant was a 16-year-old teenager with no prior criminal history, who had smoked or used marijuana and had been diagnosed with marijuana use disorder," McLauchlin wrote. "None of this justifies what happened; however, it does lend itself to treatment as a Youthful Offender."

The youthful offender status will eliminate a jury trial, if there is a trial, and the range of punishment goes from two to 20 years had he been tried as an adult to zero to three years maximum.

It was just after 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, 2019 when the Brambletts were killed.

Taylor -- then a 16-year-old Lee Scott Academy student -- was traveling south in the outside lane on Shug Jordan Parkway approaching West Samford Avenue in his Jeep Laredo.

The Brambletts, in a 2017 Toyota Highlander, were stopped in the southbound outside lane of Shug Jordan parkway at a traffic light.

The Jeep struck the Bramblett's SUV to the right of center, according to the crash report. The impact caused the Jeep to hit a pedestrian and a traffic light pole before coming to a final rest.

The Bramblett's vehicle was pushed into the intersection and through the opposing lanes of traffic before coming to a final rest on the curb.

Taylor’s "blood sample contained THC, which is the primary psychoactive component of marijuana, and is indicative of recent usage of marijuana at the time of the collision," records state. The teen was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Paula Bramblett, 53, was airlifted from the scene but had to be diverted to East Alabama Medical Center due to the severity of her injuries. She was pronounced dead in the emergency room from multiple internal injuries.

Rod Bramblett, 52, who was the driver of the Highlander, was airlifted to UAB Hospital in Birmingham, where he later died from a closed head injury.

At the time of the deadly crash, Taylor was driving 89 mph in a 55-mph zone, under the influence of marijuana, and still accelerating, authorities said, when he rammed into the back of the couple's SUV.

The judge noted in his order that Taylor had only had his driver's license for three months when the deadly crash happened.

He also chronicled facts of the case, which included that Taylor was traveling at 90 to 80 miles per hour and in the five seconds before the crash, the vehicle was not slowed or steered.

He said Taylor told authorities he was on his way home from the lake after spending the day with a friend and her family, that he was tired and fell asleep, remembered only a loud crash, his vehicle spinning and smoke everywhere.

"The defendant says when he last looked at the speedometer, he was going 60 to 65 mph," the judge wrote.

McLauchlin also noted that Taylor had been pulled over twice following the deadly crash and that his bond had been previously revoked, landing Taylor in jail for five days.

"The defendant received 60-90 days residential rehab treatment in Nashville, Tennessee and has been confined to his home since then by agreement to reset bond," he wrote. "He also passed all drug except recently in March 2021 when he tested positive for alcohol. He alleged that was due to him taking allergy medicine which contained alcohol."

He also was prohibited from use of any social media and must continue mental health and drug treatment therapy.

According to the newest bond revocation request, which is still pending, Taylor had positive screens for alcohol on March 1, March 18, and March 20 of this year.

"All results are indicative of previous heavy drinking 1-3 days before test or recent light drinking within the past 24 hours," wrote Lee County Assistant District Attorney James L. Farmer.

Taylor's attorneys filed an objection for bond revocation, claiming the request was a "Hail Mary" to put Taylor in jail and prejudice the outcome of the youthful offender hearing.

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