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Lawmakers call for accountability after state rep's charges dismissed in reckless conduct case

An 11Alive Reveal investigation in 2020 showed state Rep. Trey Kelley failed to immediately call 911 to report a hit-and-run accident he'd been notified about.

POLK COUNTY, Ga. — A Georgia judge has dismissed an indictment against state Rep. Trey Kelley in connection to a fatal 2019 hit-and-run he was notified of, but failed to immediately call 911 about.

State leaders tell 11Alive, who first uncovered the case with a Reveal investigation in Feb. 2020, that justice is still needed

A Polk County Superior Court judge threw out the misdemeanor charge against Rep. Kelley, ruling that his failure to call 911 after a friend told him about a wreck with a bicyclist --- that left a man dying on the side of the road -- did not amount to reckless conduct.

At the time Kelley was one of the most influential Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly, the majority whip and fourth-ranking member among the GOP delegation.

RELATED: Driver with powerful ties calls state rep instead of 911 after 'hit and run' crash

On Sept. 12, 2019, authorities said Ralph Dover struck 38-year-old Eric Keais as he was cycling down a Polk County road, and kept driving for nearly a mile after hitting him. That's when he called his friend Rep. Kelley instead of 911. 

Documents obtained by the 11Alive Reveal team showed Kelley, in turn, called the Cedartown police chief instead of 911 himself.

The chief called another officer to meet Kelley and Dover. By the time they got to Keais and called an ambulance, it had been an hour since the crash, and he died shortly after.

Credit: WXIA

RELATED: Lawsuit claims Georgia officials covered up fatal Cedartown hit-and-run

The Reveal investigation drew attention from state leaders and lawmakers, many calling for Kelley to take responsibility for not calling 911 sooner. In July he resigned his leadership post, but remains a member of the Georgia House.

The judge in Polk County ruled that because Kelley wasn't the driver, he didn't have a responsibility to call 911. 

State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson told 11Alive's Brittany Kleinpeter she disagreed with that reasoning.

"I am a social worker and not a lawyer. But every profession is bound by ethics and I think if someone calls you logically and says, 'I think I might have just hit someone… I think I got in an accident' – everyone would say dial 911," Rep. Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson was one of several state representatives that believed Kelley’s actions in the incident were unacceptable.

Credit: Polk County Standard Journal
Rep. Trey Kelley (left) stands with his attorney, Lester Tate, at the conclusion of a motion hearing in Polk County Superior Court on Friday, June 4, 2021.

"I think he needs to be made accountable. Just his version of the events, he did not take the right steps to save this man’s life," she said. "I think we still need justice in this case. This man lost his life for no good reason.”

Keais' family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Kelley in the case.

That case alleges that Kelley used his political office and influence to protect his friend rather than trying to help Keais.

Credit: WXIA
Eric Keais

“My brother was cheated out of life…It’s just something out of a nightmare that you wouldn’t believe that would happen. That nobody would do nothing," Keais' brother Aaron told 11Alive when the investigation was first published.

The driver, Dover, is still facing hit-and-run and reckless conduct charges.

Rep. Hutchinson, meanwhile, believes an appeal should be filed against the Superior Court ruling.