Driver in deadly Taco Bell crash in Swainsboro released from psychiatric custody

Defense pleas for release in deadly Swainsboro crash

EMANUEL COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - UPDATE: A college student accused in the deadly crash into a Swainsboro restaurant will leave psychiatric custody after a judge’s ruling.

Oliver Cope plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but his attorneys argued earlier this month that diagnosis and treatment of his mental illness should allow his release. The judge’s order transfers Cope from state custody to his parents’ care - with stipulations.

The crash happened on Sept. 28, 2017, killing Macy Mullis and injuring several others. Police arrested Cope, who had been on his way home from college in Athens, to Statesboro, when his car crossed the four-lane highway at high speed into the Taco Bell. In court appearances, Cope’s attorney, Dan Snipes, contended he suffered mental illness that was misdiagnosed and the wrong medication made it worse at the time of the crash.

In December, Judge Kathy Palmer accepted psychiatric reports from the defense and prosecution that Cope was not guilty by reason of insanity. On April 5, Snipes told the court Cope no longer met the criteria for in-patient psychiatric care and asked that he be allowed to live in his parents’ home, see his doctors frequently, and stay on his current medications.

Now, less than two weeks later, Judge Palmer has granted the request, but banned Cope from driving, owning a gun, a knife, or any weapon, no drugs or alcohol allowed. Judge Palmer also says he is not to make contact with any victims or even travel to Emanuel County.

Deborah Stapleton, a relative of the victim, wasn’t able to meet Monday to comment on the decision, but says she nor the other victims and families are satisfied with the outcome.

We messaged one relative of two of the victims. She says she and other families are not pleased with the decision.

We also asked Cope’s attorney for an interview, but he declined.

Driver in deadly Taco Bell crash in Swainsboro released from psychiatric custody

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A young man who drove his car into a fast food restaurant in Swainsboro could be released less than two years after the deadly incident.

In September 2017, we showed you the wreckage and brought you the details of what happened. Since then, the young man’s attorney has pointed to mental illness as the cause.

Friday, WTOC was the only station in the courtroom as Oliver Cope’s attorney made the plea for him to be released. We talked to the victims’ family, who says they cannot believe the request.

Cope’s attorney came to court to convince the judge that Cope would be better served in outpatient care than sentenced to a mental hospital.

Cope came back to court already having been found not guilty by reason of insanity. In September 2017, police arrested him on charges he drove his car into the Taco Bell. The crash killed one person, Macy Mullis, and injured several others.

Defense attorney Dan Snipes brought doctors to the stand who testified that Cope has suffered from bipolar disorder and was trying to kill himself, not others, in the crash. They said his mental illness appeared to be in remission with medication and work with mental health workers. They said he’d be better off - and not a danger to the public - if he was in the custody of his parents living at home and seeing his doctors regularly. The idea did not sit well with the victims in court, or their loved ones.

“To have the opportunity to go back out into the public and maybe hurt someone else, I just don’t understand," said Deborah Stapleton, a relative of the victim.

District Attorney Hayward Altman brought no objections to the request, and Judge Kathy Palmer said she would make her decision after studying reports from the doctors who’ve treated Cope since the tragedy.

Victims and their relatives say the defense’s request took them by surprise.

Past stories:

Copyright 2019 WTOC. All rights reserved.