WKYT Investigates UPDATE | Dispatch audio provides new details about traffic stop prior to deadly crash

Questions still remain, but the audio indicates that police were aware of at least two alleged violations when they pulled over the truck earlier that night.
Dispatch audio provides new details about traffic stop prior to deadly crash
Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 5:47 PM EDT
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CARLISLE, Ky. (WKYT) - Newly-obtained 911 dispatch audio sheds more light on what happened in the hours before a deadly Nicholas County crash, after a weeks-long WKYT investigation uncovered the facts about a previously-unreported traffic stop earlier that same night.

The crash happened late 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.

Cheyeene Clifford, 24, is now charged with two counts of murder and two counts of first-degree assault, among other offenses. A blood test found Clifford’s blood-alcohol content to be .14, his arrest citation states - nearly double the legal limit of .08.

Yet, records show, Carlisle police pulled Clifford over after receiving a reckless driving complaint - and let him go with a verbal warning - less than two hours before the fatal crash.

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

WKYT’s investigation raised questions about the potential red flags that were missed and about what police knew and did not know when an officer pulled over Clifford’s truck just before 10 p.m. on June 3.

Questions about what exactly happened during the traffic stop still remain; Carlisle police officers do not wear body cameras that would show the officer’s interaction with the occupants of the vehicle.

But the radio traffic, obtained through an open records request, now indicates that police were at least aware that the registration on the truck was listed as expired, and that the officer was asked to verify Clifford’s proof of insurance - both of which are things, after the crash, Clifford was charged with not having.

The initial 911 call at 9:42 p.m. - when a man reported the red pickup truck for reckless driving - backs up what the caller told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer in an exclusive interview earlier this month.

“There’s people hanging out the windows of their truck and everything,” the caller told dispatch. “They’re just being dumb, I guess. I don’t know if they’re drunk, or what’s going on with them.”

The man described a close encounter of how he said the truck (and the car behind them) ran him off the road. The people with him even seemed to be able to identify who they believed to be the driver.

“Cheyeene Clifford is who she said might be who the truck is,” the caller told dispatch. “I’m not 100% sure, but that’s who the truck they said might’ve been.”

Not long after, the dispatcher radioed the call out to Carlisle Police Officer Jamie Copher.

“129, I had a caller advise that there’s a red Dodge pickup truck driving recklessly. Should be around the Main Street area,” the dispatcher said. “Said there’s about 4-5 occupants. They’re hanging out the windows. Almost struck them. Swerving all over the roadway.”

After that, dispatch logs show, the officer drove across town and could not find the truck.

“I’m unable to locate at this time,” the officer told dispatch. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

A few minutes later, at 9:49 p.m., Officer Copher told dispatch that he was out with a red Dodge truck at a gas station, and provided dispatchers with the truck’s license plate number.

The dispatcher then gave the following information, including the status of Clifford’s registration and insurance: “2013 Ram pickup, red in color, registered to a Cheyeene Clifford out of this city. Verify proof of insurance. Looks like registration is expired on 3/31/23.”

(Police previously explained that a driver’s insurance status is listed either as “valid” or “verify proof.” Kentucky law requires motor vehicles to be registered in order to operate them legally. Insurance is also required by law.)

During the traffic stop, the officer also asked dispatch if the “R.O.” (registered owner) “is 10-4,” to which the dispatcher replies: “R.O. is going to be enforced. He’s going to be clear.”

A few minutes later, the officer radioed back with a final update: “Be advised, I don’t know if that’s the same truck - I’m pretty sure it is - but I did advise them to watch what they’re doing, be careful...”

That warning came around 9:56 p.m., roughly 1 hour 43 minutes before the deadly crash.

The officer then told dispatch that there was another traffic offense he also warned the vehicle occupants about, which they said they would fix. It is unclear to what that might have referred.

Carlisle Police Chief Bill Denton previously told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer that the department does not have a specific policy about when to issue a warning instead of writing a citation or making an arrest in a traffic stop.

By contrast, Lexington Police Department policy states that warnings “shall not be issued when...[a] motorist is stopped for or are found to be in violation of multiple offenses.”

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)

In addition, Clifford has a lengthy history of previous traffic charges filed against him. Online court records list nine previous incidents going back to 2014, when he was just 15 years old.

  • 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. That case is still pending.
  • 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.

Clifford was indicted June 19 on 11 counts in connection with the crash. He is still being held in the Bourbon County Detention Center. A pre-trial conference in the case is scheduled for October 16 in Nicholas Circuit Court.