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Lottery winner pleads guilty to assaulting deputy

Dec 19, 2003, 3:13 am

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The saga of lottery winner Jody Lee Taylor seems to indicate that he's anything but lucky.

It's still unclear why he was naked.

But there's no doubt it was Jody Lee Taylor, 1992 Virginia Lottery winner, who got high on crack cocaine and Crown Royal blended whiskey one night in June, drove his new Ford pickup the wrong way down U.S. 58 in Axton and then tried to run down a Henry County deputy.

Being a lottery winner didn't cause Taylor's problems, his friends and family say, but it sure didn't help.

Taylor pleaded guilty Wednesday in Henry County Circuit Court to assaulting a police officer. He faces at least six months in jail.

A charge of firearm possession as a convicted felon was dismissed after a friend testified that he owned the shotgun deputies pulled from Taylor's truck.

Taylor's scrapes with drugs and the law began long before he won $4.4 million in the lottery in December 1992. He was convicted of beating his future wife, Jennifer Rigney, in 1989. Three years after hitting the lottery, he shot up the Pittsylvania County house he and Rigney rented and set her car ablaze. He was convicted of arson and shooting into an occupied dwelling.

All along, though, Taylor, 35, has continued to receive checks for about $200,000 annually from the lottery, and at times he's used the money to indulge his worst habits.

Taylor had been smoking crack and had drunk most of a half-gallon of Crown Royal on June 13 when he and his girlfriend, Donna Estep, went out to get something to eat about midnight, Estep testified Wednesday.

Eric Clark and two other Axton Lifesaving Crew members saw Taylor's truck pass by on U.S. 58 twice that night, going the wrong way on the divided highway each time. On the first pass, Taylor stuck up his middle finger.

They called the sheriff's office. By the time Deputy James Cassell, just three days out of the police academy, arrived, Taylor had parked . Estep said he stopped because she demanded to be let out.

Cassell, who is not related to Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassell, pulled up behind the truck and was checking the license plate when Taylor suddenly sped away.

Cassell followed until Taylor turned into a field, the deputy testified Wednesday. Cassell's patrol car got stuck in the mud, but he continued the chase on foot.

Cassell watched as Taylor cut doughnuts in the muddy field, and then turned back toward him, Cassell said. The deputy ran out of the way. As the truck passed him, Cassell testified, he jumped onto its running board and tried to smash the driver's-side window with his pistol.

The entire time, Taylor was wide-eyed, his mouth hanging agape , the deputy testified.

Cassell was thrown off, but Taylor soon grounded the truck on a mound of dirt.

Cassell finally had to use a rock to smash the window and remove Taylor, with the help of Clark, the rescue squad member.

Taylor was babbling, Clark said. "He was out there. He didn't respond appropriately to anything we were saying."

Cassell said Taylor kept talking about the devil and wondering what was going on. Later, Cassell had to use pepper spray on Taylor when he kept smashing his head into the patrol car window.

None of the testimony accounted for why Taylor was naked. Estep said he was wearing pants when she got out of the truck before the chase.

Cassell's version of the story was never challenged by Taylor or his Martinsville attorney, Reid Young.

Taylor took the stand only to say the shotgun wasn't his and he didn't know it was in his truck. He initially pleaded not guilty but changed to a guilty plea after the testimony ended.

Taylor will be sentenced Jan. 21. He faces a maximum of five years in prison.

Roanoke Times

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