WKYT Investigates | Man now charged with murder was pulled over, issued warning prior to deadly crash

Cheyeene R. Clifford, 24, had a blood-alcohol content of .14 after the crash, his arrest citation states.
Cheyeene R. Clifford, 24, had a blood-alcohol content of .14 after the crash, his arrest citation states.
Updated: Aug. 10, 2023 at 6:00 AM EDT
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CARLISLE, Ky. (WKYT) - A warm June day was turning into an unseasonably cool night as one Nicholas County man - who has asked not to be identified - drove along Myers Road outside Carlisle with his young daughter and some other relatives.

All of a sudden, he said, he heard “the awfullest racket that ever was” as a red pickup truck - and a second car behind it - sped around him.

“I slammed on the brakes, throwed [my daughter] up in the dash, got plum off the road, just to keep from getting hit by another car,” he remembered nearly two months later. “They almost killed me when they passed me down there. It made me mad.”

He was still mad when he got into town and saw the red truck again, he said, so he rolled down his window and yelled at them: “Slow your damn truck down.”

Then he decided to call police, reporting not just what he described as reckless driving but also the people inside the truck hanging out of the windows. It wasn’t safe.

He hung up and thought no more of it.

Until later that night.

“I was half asleep and my cousin called me and said, ‘Hey, them boys crashed right down the road from us. They was that same people,’” he said. “And I was like, man, that’s just...”

His voice trailed off.

The crash happened on Myers Road, about 10 minutes out from Carlisle.
The crash happened on Myers Road, about 10 minutes out from Carlisle.(WKYT)

The man arrested in connection with a deadly Nicholas County crash was pulled over and let go with a verbal warning earlier that same night, records show.

Cheyeene R. Clifford, 24, is now charged with two counts of murder and two counts of first-degree assault, among other offenses.

WKYT Investigates, following a weeks-long investigation that included multiple public records requests, is first to report on the traffic stop.

The crash happened late the night of June 3 in the 4000-block of Myers Road (KY 32 East) outside of Carlisle, according to a police narrative.

Gage Gaunce, 20, and Nathaniel Clay Welch, 17, died. Two other people inside the truck were airlifted to the hospital, investigators said.

A blood test after the crash found Clifford’s blood-alcohol content to be .14, his arrest citation states - nearly double the legal limit of .08.

Yet Carlisle police pulled Clifford over after receiving that reckless driving complaint less than two hours before the fatal crash.

Other records show that Clifford - even if unintoxicated - was not supposed to be driving his truck that night in the first place, and that a lengthy history of previous traffic-related violations still was not enough to prevent a tragedy.


At 9:42 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, a person on Main Street in Carlisle called 911 to report a reckless driver, according to dispatch logs WKYT Investigates obtained through an open records request.

The caller told dispatch that a red Dodge truck was driving all over the roadway, with four to five people inside the truck and hanging out the windows, the blotter states.

Someone called 911 to report a reckless driver less than two hours before the fatal crash.
Someone called 911 to report a reckless driver less than two hours before the fatal crash.(City of Carlisle dispatch logs)

By 9:42:52 p.m., Carlisle Police Officer James Copher Jr. was marked “enroute,” but three minutes later - at 9:45:51 - the incident was closed when Officer Copher advised that he had gone from one end of town to the other and was unable to locate the truck, the call for service shows.

Not long after that - at 9:49 p.m. - that same officer initiated a traffic stop, pulling over Cheyeene Clifford in a red Ram pickup at the Shell station on Concrete Road, according to the incident’s call for service.

In total, that traffic stop lasted six minutes, timestamps show. But what exactly happened during those six minutes is not documented.

Clifford, the log states, was let go with a verbal warning.

Dispatch logs show the traffic stop lasted six minutes. Cheyeene Clifford was given a verbal...
Dispatch logs show the traffic stop lasted six minutes. Cheyeene Clifford was given a verbal warning.(Carlisle Police dispatch logs)

“I was not there that night, so I don’t know,” said Carlisle Police Chief William Denton, “but I’m assuming [the officer] made his best judgment and did what he needed to do and ended the contact.”

Chief Denton declined a request for an on-camera interview for this story but did speak on the phone with WKYT’s Garrett Wymer, answering questions for more than 15 minutes.

Still, much remains unknown about the traffic stop and the officer’s decision not to cite or arrest Clifford at that time.

Through a family member, Copher, who is no longer employed with the Carlisle Police Department, declined to comment.

Additionally, Carlisle police do not have body cameras or dashboard cameras that would have captured video of the traffic stop, and no other incident report was generated, according to City Attorney Skip Watson in response to a follow-up open records request.

The incident was closed at 9:56 p.m., approximately 1 hour 43 minutes before first responders were again called about the red pickup truck - at around 11:39 p.m., Nicholas County Sheriff Jeff Sidles said - roughly seven miles away from the site where Clifford was pulled over.

This time, court documents state, the truck was found flipped on its side over an embankment after having run off the road and hit a tree.

The City of Carlisle, keeper of dispatch records for the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Office, withheld the dispatch logs related to the crash, citing open records exemptions for ongoing criminal investigations.

Gaunce and Welch, according to a news release from the coroner’s office, were pronounced dead at 1:26 a.m.


When Rebecca and Larry Allison first heard the collision, it was so loud - and, as Rebecca Allison described, lacked the sound of any screeching tires - that they wondered if a neighbor’s house had exploded.

They went outside anyway to check.

At first, she said, it was quiet. They heard the brook babbling nearby, cicadas clicking, grasshoppers chirping. What they eventually saw and heard in the darkness of that June night has stayed with them, perhaps devastatingly so.

They lived through it the night it happened, from before midnight nearly to the following sunrise. They have relived it as investigators came to ask for copies of their surveillance video. They relive it daily as they pass the site where the truck landed - on their own property.

“We very much feel it,” Rebecca Allison said. “Every day.”

Allison said her husband performed CPR on two of the victims - one barely breathing, another unconscious. Only one of those two would survive.

Allison herself remembers seeing the trees knocked down, the truck flipped over, the debris strewn all along the road in its wake.

She remembers the multiple young people either injured or dead.

She remembers seeing Cheyeene Clifford.

And she remembers the screams.

“It was a long and terrible night,” Allison said, looking back. “It really was.”


Following the crash, Clifford was charged for the truck’s registration having expired and for failure to maintain insurance, according to the post-arrest complaint.

Investigators also said that Clifford lied to them about his involvement.

“Above subject told Sgt. Adams that he wasn’t driving the vehicle and that another person was driving,” states the complaint from the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Office. “Through investigation it was determined that above subject was in fact driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.”

The post-arrest complaint states that Clifford first lied to investigators about driving at the...
The post-arrest complaint states that Clifford first lied to investigators about driving at the time of the crash.(Kentucky Court of Justice)

It is far from the first time Clifford has faced charges for his driving.

Court records paint a picture of repeated run-ins with police - averaging one each year for the past nine years - over traffic-related alleged offenses, several of which resulted in dismissed or amended charges, or in simple fines as outlined in state law.

On April 10 - less than two months before the crash that killed Gaunce and Welch - Clifford was charged with speeding and reckless driving in Bourbon County. A Kentucky State Police trooper said he pulled Clifford over after seeing the red 2013 Ram traveling 101 mph in a 55-mph zone.

“Upon contact with the operator,” the trooper wrote in the post-arrest complaint, “he stated that he got brake checked and sped up to pass the vehicle so that he could be in front to avoid any conflict.”

That case, according to online court records, is still pending.

Speeding and reckless driving charges from April are still pending against Clifford in Bourbon...
Speeding and reckless driving charges from April are still pending against Clifford in Bourbon County.(Kentucky Court of Justice)

Online court records also show eight other incidents that resulted in traffic charges against Clifford going back to 2014, when he was just 15 years old.

  • In March 2022, Clifford was charged in Lexington for no/expired registration plates, but the charge was dismissed a month later.
  • In September 2020, Clifford was cited in Lexington for failure to wear a seatbelt. He paid a $25 fine, a receipt shows.
  • In August 2019, he was cited in Paris for expired registration.
  • In April 2018, Clifford was arrested after a traffic stop in Nicholas County and charged with driving on a suspended license. (That charge was later amended down to driving without a license in his possession.) He was fined for failing to wear a seatbelt.
  • In August 2017, he was fined $55 for speeding 25 mph over the limit in Bourbon County.
  • In November 2016, he was charged in Bourbon County with speeding 20 mph over the limit. He was fined $40.
  • In July 2015, he was charged for failing to yield the right of way and failing to maintain insurance after nearly hitting another vehicle in Montgomery County, according to a complaint. Clifford had only his instructional permit at the time, according to online court records. A charge of instructional permit violations was dismissed.
  • In February 2014, Clifford was charged in Robertson County with failure to wear a seatbelt and not having a license. “Driver was 15 years old and does not hold a valid license,” the complaint states. One month later, those charges were dismissed.

With such a lengthy history of traffic charges - including speeding and reckless driving - when Carlisle police pulled over Clifford on the night of June 3 following a reckless driving complaint, how did he get let go with a warning?

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Chief Denton told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “I want to think [the officer] used his best judgment that night.”


The Carlisle Police Department does not have a specific policy in place for when to issue a warning instead of writing a citation or making an arrest in a traffic stop, Chief Denton said, largely leaving it up to an officer’s discretion except in domestic violence and DUI cases.

Chief Denton said he expects officers to use all of their senses - what they hear, smell, see - plus their common sense.

“Discretion is a good thing,” Chief Denton said.

When Carlisle police run a driver and vehicle through their system, Chief Denton explained, it allows an officer to receive details including the driver’s address, license restrictions (such as requirements for corrective lenses, etc.), vehicle information, whether the driver has a concealed carry permit, insurance status (“valid” or “verify proof”) and vehicle registration status.

Officers may also see or inquire about a driver’s prior charges, although it is unclear whether Officer Copher did in this case.

Dispatchers provide vehicle and insurance information, as well as driver status, but often do not inform officers of any “priors” without being asked, Chief Denton said. That means whether the officer would have been aware of Clifford’s history of traffic violations likely hinged on whether he had his mobile data terminal, or MDT, up at the time.

WKYT Investigates was unable to ask former Officer Copher whether he was aware of Clifford’s prior traffic charges and, if so, whether he considered them a red flag that should have merited further action.

Other police agencies in Kentucky have policies that outline procedures for the use of warnings in traffic stops, although the written guidelines do still allow for flexibility.

“This policy does not supplant officer judgment and discretion,” states Lexington Police General Order 1992-021, regarding traffic law enforcement. “Officer discretion is encouraged when enforcing traffic laws. The officer should decide what enforcement, if any, is appropriate based on the totality of the circumstance, and the officer’s training, experience, and common sense.”

Lexington’s policy states that warning notices shall not be issued when:

  • a. The motorist is stopped for or are found to be in violation of multiple offenses.
  • b. The motorist’s actions constitute a misdemeanor or felony offense.

The general order also states that a warning notice may be issued when:

  • a. The motorist’s driving behavior could have resulted in the issuance of a Uniform Citation,
  • b. The motorist’s driving behavior suggested they may have been intoxicated or impaired, but has been ruled out by sobriety tests.
  • c. In conjunction with a warrant or criminal summons when no other traffic offense is involved.

It is unclear if Carlisle police performed any sobriety tests on Clifford during the traffic stop the night of the crash, and, if so, whether Clifford showed any signs of intoxication at that point.

If Clifford was intoxicated, as an example, Louisville Metro Police Department’s standard operating procedures make it clear: “Under no circumstances may an officer issue a warning to operators who have committed a DUI violation.”

It is also unclear at this time what the statuses of Clifford’s insurance and registration were listed as or given, if and when they were checked during the traffic stop. An open records request for police radio traffic, which could shed more light on what happened during the six-minute traffic stop, is currently pending.

Asked if he was satisfied with his officer’s actions during the traffic stop, Chief Denton said that if anything needed addressed, he would have taken steps to do so.

“I trust my officers in their daily actions of carrying out their duties,” he said.

Officer Copher resigned effective July 24, Chief Denton said. His written notice provided to the mayor did not include any details as to why, he said.


A small tribute now lines Myers Road.

“Just to mark it, you know?” Rebecca Allison told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer, walking along the narrow grass shoulder near the crash site on her family’s property.

Potted plants. Solar-powered lights and flowers. A red bandana. Tire marks on the pavement from memorial burnouts.

Allison put the potted plants out herself - five of them, not just to honor the two people killed and the two people injured, but to recognize that all five families - including Clifford’s - were forever changed by what happened that night.

“If it’s hard for me, I can only imagine - I can only imagine - what it is for the families and the individuals that survived,” Allison said. “I can only imagine. I can’t. I can’t imagine.”

After investigators with the sheriff’s office said he told them that someone else was driving the truck at the time of the crash, Clifford was allowed to leave the scene with his father to go to the hospital, his arrest citation states.

He was arrested the night of June 5 and booked into the Bourbon County Detention Center.

Clifford was indicted June 19 on the following charges:

  • Murder (2 counts)
  • Assault in the First Degree (2 counts)
  • Tampering with a Witness
  • Operating a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence - First Offense with Aggravating Circumstance - Death or Serious Physical Injury
  • Reckless Driving
  • Failure to Wear Seat Belt
  • No/Expired Registration Plates
  • Failure of Owner to Maintain Required Insurance - First Offense
  • Failure to Produce Insurance Card

He is still being held in Bourbon County.

Under the conditions of his $500,000 cash bond (if it were to be posted), he would not be allowed to operate any motor vehicle.

A pre-trial conference in the case is scheduled for October 16 in Nicholas Circuit Court.

Cheyeene Clifford, 24, was booked into the Bourbon County Detention Center on June 6 after...
Cheyeene Clifford, 24, was booked into the Bourbon County Detention Center on June 6 after being arrested the night before.(Bourbon Co. Detention Center)

The man who called 911 to report Cheyeene Clifford for reckless driving earlier in the night can’t be sure whether or not Clifford had been drinking at that point.

“I didn’t see them physically have anything in their hand,” he told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “They might not have been drinking when they pulled them over, I don’t know.”

But he does know the behavior he saw.

“If I’d have it done over again,” he reflected, “I’d have blocked the road on them and I would’ve pulled them out of the truck. And they might’ve whupped my ass, but I would’ve done my best to do whatever I had to do.”

Still, he said he knows he did, realistically, all that he could.

“I told my wife, you know, I feel bad,” he said. “But I done the right thing. I called it in, said they was driving reckless....If they didn’t pull them over or they did pull them over and let them go...that’s nothing to do with what I’ve done.

“I done what I was supposed to do, so I’m not going to feel guilty about, ‘I should’ve done something more.’”