As procession was held for Burke Co firefighter, suspect was arrested and charged

(Sky3 | WBTV)
(Sky3 | WBTV)
Stewart (Steve Ohnesorge | WBTV)
Stewart (Steve Ohnesorge | WBTV)

VALDESE, NC (WBTV) - A procession was held Tuesday for a volunteer firefighter from the Triple Community Fire Department in Drexel who was killed after being hit by a car while trying to clear debris from a road in Morganton Sunday night.

Firefighters were dispatched to a tree that was blocking the eastbound and westbound lanes of Highway 70 East near the Drexel intersection just before midnight. Officials say Jason Keith Hensley and another firefighter were wearing reflective vests and standing next to vehicles, including a firetruck, that had emergency lights flashing.

Fire Marshall Mike Willis says a truck, driven by 58-year-old Randall Stewart, hit Hensley, Hensley's vehicle and then the firetruck. The 40-year-old firefighter was killed "instantly upon impact."

Hensley's body had been taken to Winston Salem for an autopsy. On Tuesday, firefighters went there to bring him home.

The procession returned at mid-afternoon. Along the overpasses on Interstate 40, fire trucks gathered to pay respects and people held their hand to their heart in a salute to the fallen firefighter.

Hensley's mother watched from the exit 119 overpass as friends hugged her.

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As the procession made its way back to Burke County, the man accused of killing Hensley was taken to jail. Randall Stewart has been charged with felony death by vehicle. That's in addition to charges of driving while impaired, reckless driving, and possession of marijuana.

Stewart had been in the hospital the past few days, and that's where troopers arrested him upon his release Tuesday.

Stewart told WBTV when asked about the wreck, "It was not my fault."

Stewart claims he was tired and heading home to go to sleep. He said that while he did see the lights of the emergency vehicles, he did not see Hensley. When asked if he was high on drugs at the time,  Stewart said no.

"I wasn't high, I don't have a problem with drugs," he said.

Moments later, he said, "I haven't been high in days."

When asked again about Sunday - when the accident happened - he admitted, "Earlier in the day I smoked a joint."

Stewart was jailed under a bond of $25,000. He said he cannot make that, so he will stay behind bars.

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the funeral of the firefighter.

The funeral will be held on Friday, October 13, at 11 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Drexel at 200 South Main Street Drexel, NC.

Burial will be at Hillcrest Cemetery at 1121 Praley Street SW in Valdese, NC.

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