Sep. 22—A Crandall man has pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and arson in connection with a July 2020 wreck in Murray County that killed Tommy Nickels, 19, and his wife Kristen Anna Nickels, 20, both also of Crandall.
The mothers of the couple say they are angry that Anthony Leon "Tony" Brown has not revealed why he ran the vehicle the couple were in off the road.
"I"m mad as hell," said Tommy's mother Chrystie Nickels. "He took two innocent lives, waited more than a year to admit he was guilty, then won't tell us why he did what he did."
District Attorney Bert Poston said Brown is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 20 and has waived his right to withdraw his plea. Brown's attorney, Richard Murray, did not immediately return a telephone message Wednesday.
"There is no negotiated plea agreement other than the agreement to let him plea to manslaughter instead of murder," Poston said. "He faces up to 50 years on those charges if all run consecutive — 20 years each on manslaughter plus 10 on arson. We still don't know the motive or if they even knew each other. This is technically still a pending case until sentencing, so I can't comment further."
Chrystie Nickels and Stephanie Duke, Kristen's mother, said they know of no connection between their children and Brown. Duke said her daughter was known to her family by her middle name Anna.
"I went through Tommy's phone when I got it back from the (Georgia State Patrol)," Chrystie Nickels said. "They (the State Patrol) went through it. I've talked to everybody who knew Tommy and Kristen. We can't find where he crossed their paths anywhere."
The hit-and-run happened at 7:17 p.m. on July 29 of last year on Highway 411/State Route 61 near Hooker Road near Crandall, according to a Georgia State Patrol report.
The report states a 2007 Ford Mustang was being driven by Tommy Nickels. Anna Nickels was a passenger. A witness said a silver sedan "approached the Mustang from the rear and started striking the rear portion of the Mustang. She stated both vehicles then struck one another multiple times after the initial contact. She stated the roadway turned (into) a two lane with a continuous center turn lane. She stated the silver sedan moved to the right side of the Mustang and struck his vehicle on the right side, causing it to leave the roadway and crash."
The report states the Mustang "traveled off the west side of the roadway, while rotating counterclockwise." It overturned on its passengers' side and struck a tree "with the top of the vehicle's passenger compartment." It finally "landed upright facing north after impact with the tree." Debris from the vehicle struck a nearby mobile home.
The witness said the sedan hit its brakes at a gas station just past the crash site and then left. She said the driver "appeared to be a white male with short dark hair."
A press release from the sheriff's office stated that on Aug. 4, sheriff's office Capt. Tim Bell, then-chief deputy Jimmy Davenport and state Trooper Stephen Langham went to Brown's home. After a "short foot pursuit," Brown was "taken into custody and the burned remains of (a) 2006 Suzuki Reno was located behind the residence."
The State Fire Investigations Unit determined the fire that destroyed the Reno was arson.
The couple would have celebrated their first wedding anniversary on Aug. 12, 2020, according to Chrystie Nickels.
"Anna — her name was Kristen Anna, her friends called her Kristen but we always called her Anna — took care of her siblings when I was at work," said Duke. "My husband was deployed for 10 months and Tommy helped me keep the yard up and take out the trash. He was like a big brother to my two other children.
"They (the couple) were good kids, and they were growing into good adults. They didn't deserve what happened to them. They had their whole lives ahead of them."
Chrystie Nickels said "The Nightmare Before Christmas" was the couple's favorite movie and compared the two to Jack and Sally, the couple in that film.
"They were just so in love," Duke said. "They were just perfect for each other. They were such good kids. Anna never got into trouble. Neither of them ever got into trouble. Anna graduated 11th and 12th grades at the same time at North Murray High School."
The couple lived in a "mother-in-law apartment" with Anna's parents, and Duke recalls the last time she spoke to Tommy.
"Tommy came to the front porch and asked my friend if she could move her car so he could go get Anna from work. He'd helped me clean the pool that day," she said. "She moved her car, and Tommy said, 'I'll be back in a little bit.' I said, 'OK, be safe, be careful.' They were minutes away from home when all that happened."