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Dawsonville man arrested after fatal February wreck
GSP-file image

A Dawsonville man was recently arrested following an investigation into a fatal vehicle crash along the local portion of Ga. 400 in February. 

Phillip Carl Balser, 32, of Dawsonville, was arrested on April 19 by the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and charged with two DUI counts and three felony counts of homicide by vehicle.

Balser’s passenger on the motorcycle, his fianceé Ashley Kelly, died because of injuries sustained during the wreck, and he was injured.

Personnel from Georgia State Patrol’s Post 37 were requested to investigate the two-vehicle crash on Feb. 12 at 6:06 p.m. on Ga. 400 near Prestige Lane. Through an open records request, DCN obtained a copy of the incident report from GSP. 

The investigating trooper spoke with the driver and passenger of one of the vehicles, a pickup truck. Both of the truck’s occupants were uninjured. 

The driver said he was following Balser, who was driving a motorcycle, when traffic came to a stop at the intersection of Lumpkin Campground and Harmony Church roads. At the stop, an 

uninvolved truck was first at line, followed by two motorcycles, one of which was Balser’s. 

As the light turned green and vehicles flowed southbound on the highway, the involved truck driver followed the motorcycles roughly two-thirds of the way downhill at speeds of 55-60 mph. 

One of the motorcycles sped off as Balser slowed down to 35-40 mph, the truck driver said. 

“He stated that Balser continued slowing and he could tell that he was doing so to attempt to ‘piss me off’ and noted that no one travels down Ga. 400 going 35-40 miles per hour,” the GSP trooper restated in his report. 

The driver said he kept slowing down to try to avoid hitting Balser and saw that he was approaching his intended left turn lane. He explained he entered the grass median to get around the motorcycle and make his turn.

As the driver began going onto the median, Balser kept slowing down and "turned with his left hand and shot [him] a bird” as the driver passed, according to the GSP report.

The driver elaborated that he was still trying to “move over” and switched his attention from Balser back to his driving path to avoid road signs. 

Then, the driver heard a “thump,” his wife screamed, and he looked in his side mirror to see Balser’s motorcycle flipping end-to-end. 

The driver maintained his truck was never completely on the median, with two of its wheels staying on the pavement and added that he and Balser did not know or encounter each other before the incident. 

He stated to the trooper that “Balser must have been upset with him for an unknown reason, possibly that he was following him too closely.” 

During his time at the scene, the trooper saw the blue Suzuki motorcycle Balser had been operating lying on its left side in the center of the left and right travel lanes of Ga. 400 South.

Kelly was ejected from the motorcycle and landed about 25 feet north of it. Balser was also ejected, landing about 15 feet south of the bike. 

After the wreck, the second driver’s black Ram 1500 pickup truck was parked about 100 feet to the south of the motorcycle, parked on the west shoulder of Ga. 400, where the driver was waiting.

 

Balser statements

When asked if he had consumed alcohol prior to the crash, the driver said he had had one vodka drink about three hours beforehand. Field tests showed he was not impaired. The crash scene was then turned over to other troopers as the investigating one went to speak with Balser, who’d been transported to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Lumpkin County. 

When that trooper arrived, he observed Balser wearing a neck brace. Balser shared that prior to the accident, he and his wife had been heading to Doc Bramblett Road near the Forsyth/Dawson County line after having been in Helen most of the day. 

When asked about the wreck, Balser said he’d driven into a curve and hit a patch of sand or gravel. This seemed to confuse the deputy, who noted that the crash occurred on “a downhill straightaway” and that there was “no debris in the roadway consistent with that.” 

Balser claimed he’d hit debris on Long Branch Road, a Lumpkin County road north of the crash scene. He did not remember other vehicles involved in the wreck and doubled down on the narrative about hitting debris. 

 

Witnesses

One of the five accident witnesses corroborated the truck driver’s movements and  characterization of Balser’s maneuvers. The witness elaborated that Balser was also “swerving back and forth within his travel lane” and the truck driver was following the involved motorcycle “extremely closely.”

That witness suspected a road rage altercation was occuring between the two vehicles and saw the two vehicles make impact as the truck started passing Balser. 

Right before that, the witness said he saw Balser steer back over to the left within the travel lane “as if to say "piss on you" and make a gesture to the truck driver. 

Another witness stated he was 2-3 cars behind the involved pickup truck. That person added that “the motorcycle driven by Balser possibly came over’ into the turning lane which the pickup was attempting to enter,” according to the GSP report. 

Two other witnesses were riding in a vehicle initially in the left travel lane in traffic behind the truck driver and Balser's vehicles. The driver of that vehicle shared a story similar to the other accounts of what happened before the incident.

When that driver was about 100 feet ahead of the pickup truck and the motorcycle, he said he heard a loud noise, then seeing the truck in the median and the bike skidding. 

After the crash, that witness and his passenger, who are both EMTs, stopped to render aid. 

“Both stated that they did not observe the black pickup attempting to pass the motorcycle and only observed the motorcycle crashing,” the report stated.

Both men could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage on Balser's breath while they were helping him. Later, when Dawson County Sheriff’s Office deputies were helping EMS personnel secure Balser, they also detected an alcohol scent from him.

At the hospital, the investigating trooper noticed Balser’s bloodshot, watery eyes and the odor. Balser initially denied consuming alcohol but later admitted to drinking when he was in Helen. 

Because of the alleged events leading up to the crash, Balser’s admissions and symptoms of intoxication, the trooper determined he would charge the man with DUI. 

A warrant was subsequently requested for a blood draw, and the results were submitted into evidence at GSP’s Post 37 in Cumming. 

Balser was released April 20 on a $22,200.00 bond.

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