Swainsboro Taco Bell crash suspect plans to claim insanity

Swainsboro Taco Bell crash suspect plans to claim insanity
(Source: WTOC)

EMANUEL CO., GA (WTOC) - An 18-year-old accused of ramming his car into a building in a deadly crash is planning to claim insanity in his upcoming trial.

Swainsboro Police say Oliver Cope drove his car through the front of the crowded Taco Bell last fall. They say the University of Georgia freshman was driving through Swainsboro from Athens back home to Statesboro when it happened.

In court Wednesday, Cope's attorneys told the judge their client needs ongoing mental health treatment, and he can't get that inside a county jail. Cope showed up to court in civilian clothes - not a jail jumpsuit. His attorneys informed Judge Kathy Palmer he pled not guilty to murder, aggravated assault, and other charges.

Back in September, Cope's car crossed four lanes of U.S. Highway 1 to crash into the restaurant, killing one person and injuring several others. Cope's attorneys notified the court that he would plead not guilty by insanity. They also asked that he be kept at a mental health center in Statesboro, instead of jail.

Cope's family physician testified that he needed daily psychiatric care in addition to medication for bipolar disorder and hallucinations.

Prosecutors and the victims initially objected to what they felt would be too comfortable a setting for a murder suspect, and possibly a place Cope could escape, but both changed their opinion after a recess and said the center was more secure than they thought.

"As long as he's getting mental health treatment for any issue, real or imagined, then we have no objection to it," said the victims' attorney, Kendall Gross. "My clients are eager to see justice done in this case. Not to be trite, but as the old expression goes, justice delayed is justice denied."

Sheriff Tyson Stephens told the court he'd communicate with his counterpart in Bulloch County, and that any misbehavior by Cope could get him moved back behind bars.

Judge Palmer told both sides she expects them to be ready to try this case in early April.

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