By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post
A case that was first ruled as a hit-and-run incident 40 years ago has been re-opened by authorities who have learned information that may mean the death of a young Lebanon man was not an accident.
The body of Charles Ragland “Butch” Cooksey Jr. was found early in the morning on Saturday, June 14, 1969, on Highway 70. He was 19 and authorities investigating at the time ruled his death as a hit-and-run.
Questions about Cooksey’s death, however, have always remained.
And now 40 years later, Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe has re-opened the cold case at the request of Cooksey’s family and said that he is 100 percent sure that the death was not a hit-and-run.
“We have made great progress,” Ashe said. “We have pieced together the last hours of his life. We know who he was with as well as the circumstances.
“Everyone in this office is positive that this was not a hit-and-run,” Ashe said.
Cooksey’s sisters, Sue and Connie, had recently learned some information regarding their brother’s death and, after waiting until their parents had passed, asked Ashe to find out if the information was true. Not only did he find it to be true, Ashe learned more about the case.
He has already spoken with District Attorney Tommy Thompson about taking the matter before a grand jury. Ashe said he is also considering exhuming Cooksey’s remains for a more modern autopsy and has spoken with officials at the forensic pathology department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He could not go into details regarding any additional evidence they might find.
“I had just gotten back from Vietnam when this happened,” Ashe said. “I knew his family and there was always some mystery behind Butch’s death. ... His siblings asked me a few weeks ago to re-open this case.”
“I was 10-years-old when it happened,” Sue Cooksey said in a telephone interview Thursday, “and our parents shielded us from a lot of this. There was always doubt with my parents about my brother’s death and there were rumors.”
The sheriff said they are focusing on a several individuals, some of whom have retained attorneys. Ashe has spoken with most of the people involved, but he said there are others.
“There are some more people with information,” Ashe said. “They need to come forward before I come after them with a warrant. I have talked to the State Trooper and the TBI agent that worked the case, but I would also like to speak with any other officers that were at the scene that night.”
“I just want the closure of knowing what really happened,” Sue Cooksey said. “This should have been done years ago.”
There is a reward for information on the death that Ashe said exceeds the usual Crime Stoppers limit of $1,000. He declined to give the exact figure.
Staff Writer Ben Dudley may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.