FALLSTON, NC(WBTV) - The driver charged in a crash that sparked a house explosion that killed an elderly couple is reportedly on the run after he was indicted in the crash earlier this week.
According to the North Carolina Highway Patrol, 24-year-old Thomas Pruitt is on the run.
Tuesday morning, Pruitt was indicted on two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle. The charges came six weeks after he crashed into a home propane tank in Fallston, setting off a home explosion that killed an elderly couple.
The couple, 74-year-old Johnie (J.B.) Newton and 76-year-old Naomi Newton, were inside at their home along the East Stagecoach Trail in late February. They were able to escape after the crash and explosion, but later died from their injuries.
Troopers say they have gone to Pruitt's home twice since he was indicted, the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office went a third time. According to investigators, they "gotten the runaround" about Pruitt's whereabouts.
"He is aware we are looking for him," said Trooper DS Smart.
They were told he was visiting his girlfriend in South Carolina, but she told investigators they were no longer in a relationship and he was living with his mother in Kings Mountain. A person at his mother's home told WBTV earlier this week that Pruitt was "still devastated about the crash" and living in South Carolina with his girlfriend.
Investigators also say Pruitt was fired from his job.
State officials said a 1997 GMC pickup truck, driven by Pruitt, crossed the center line and hit the shoulder of the roadway and crashed into the home, causing the propane gas tank to rupture and explode.
Pruitt went to the hospital after the crash, but was released a short time later. In an off-camera interview outside his home the next day, Pruitt told WBTV he didn't want to talk about what happened.
Neighbors who ran to the scene to help said Pruitt spoke with them.
"The driver stated when I got to him at the road he fell asleep at the wheel. 'I fell asleep, oh God. I fell asleep'," one neighbor told WBTV. "And then later on his story changed - that he was dodging a deer. So I don't know."
A highway patrol official later confirmed to WBTV Pruitt did fall asleep behind the wheel at the time of the crash.
The charges are misdemeanors, however, and not something that could land anyone behind bars for life, said officials.
Many in Fallston think Pruitt is getting off easy as it is."I don't think it is a fair charge," said one woman, who added, "it should be a lot harsher."
Smart says Pruitt needs to turn himself in and soon. "He's making matters worse for him as time goes on."
There is a chance, he says, that Pruitt has left the state but they have not been able to confirm that. An order for arrest has been issued.
If you know where Pruitt is, you are asked to call the North Carolina Highway Patrol at 704-480-5409 or contact your local authorities.