2 charged with negligent homicide in Kelsey Starling’s disappearance

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WINSTON COUNTY (WIAT) — Two people have been arrested and charged with negligent homicide relating to the death of Kelsey Starling, who disappeared on Smith Lake following a boating accident on the Fourth of July.

On Wednesday, troopers with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Marine Patrol Division arrested Nick Bowling Suggs, 50, and Jodi Wallace Suggs, 50, charging both Decatur natives with criminally negligent homicide regarding a fatal boat crash July 4 on Smith Lake that killed Starling, 26, of Troy.

According to the Winston County Sheriff’s Office, Nick and Jodi Suggs were accompanied by their attorney and turned themselves into authorities. They immediately posted $3,000 bond each and left the Winston County Jail Wednesday.

At the time of the crash, it was reported that five people had been injured with four of them being taken to the hospital. However, Starling was unaccounted for.

After Starling disappeared, Jackson Fite, a native of Decatur who was driving the boat that day, was arrested and charged with boating under the influence.

Per the Marine Patrol Division, the Suggs’ were on a pontoon boat whereas Starling was riding on a MasterCraft. The two boats collided just after 10 P.M.

In Alabama, criminally negligent homicide is a Class A misdemeanor. However, according to the Alabama Code Title 13A-6-4, the charge can be upgraded to a Class C felony if death “is caused by the driver or operator of a vehicle or vessel who is driving or operating the vehicle or vessel in violation of Section 32-5A-191 or 32-5A-191.3.” A Class A misdemeanor can include up to a year in prison while a Class C felony can carry a prison sentence between one and 10 years.

According to a press release sent out by ALEA, charges were handed down against the duo after a Winston County grand jury convened earlier this week. Officials from the 25th Circuit District Attorney’s Office in Winston County will prosecute the case.

Following news of the indictment, Starling’s family released a statement to media:

“Our daughter, sister, and granddaughter, Kelsey Starling is missing and presumed dead since July 4, 2019, following a boating incident on Smith Lake. We appreciate the tireless efforts of law enforcement and search personnel to locate Kelsey. We also very much appreciate the love and support we have received from so many individuals at Smith Lake and throughout our state. We have been especially touched by the blue Kelsey ribbons that have seemingly appeared everywhere in Alabama and states beyond. This has provided our family significant comfort.

We understand that an indictment has now been issued in connection with Kelsey’s death; we will not comment on the indictment at this time. We look forward to receiving information yielded from the investigation that resulted in this indictment. The family will have no further comment on this issue at this time, as our efforts remain focused on the recovery of Kelsey’s remains.”

Starling was a speech pathologist at Tuggle Elementary School whose friends described as having a “light she shared with everyone she met.”

“We wanted to do this for Alton and Megan and all of her friends, faculty members, just to let them know how much we love, care and appreciate Kelsey and the impact that she had on our kids here at Tuggle,” Principal Ann Jemison said during a balloon release in her honor earlier this month.

The search for Starling has gone on for over a month since her disappearance, involving state-of-the-art equipment and dozens of volunteers searching Smith Lake to find her. However, due to the deep depths of the lake, including an underwater “forest,” the search has not yielded any clues to her whereabouts.

As the search continues, officials with the Winston County Sheriff’s Office are encouraging everyone to be safe when out on the water.

“Safety [is most important]. It doesn’t matter if you’re drinking and driving, drinking and boating, speeding, it doesn’t matter what it is,” said Chief Deputy Bryan Kirkpatrick. “Take care and caution. That goes the same on the water as it does on the roadway.”

Efforts to recover Starling’s body resumed this morning and will continue through Friday.

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