Authorities say a former Knoxville reporter took three girls hostage in his sport utility vehicle and threatened to take them along on a robbery and kill them.
Kevin Lee Pettiford, 41, faces charges of reckless endangerment, third-offense driving under the influence, violation of the implied consent law and three charges of especially aggravated kidnapping.
Knoxville police say the ride ended after one of the girls used her cell phone to call her mother Lena Lowery from a fast food restaurant bathroom.
Lowery told the Knoxville News Sentinel that on Tuesday her 11-year-old daughter and two other girls went to play with Pettiford’s niece.
Pettiford took the four girls to get ice cream around 7 p.m., Knoxville police investigator Debra Maberry wrote in an arrest warrant. Lowery said her daughter knew something was wrong when Pettiford didn’t stop at any restaurants.
“He was driving fast,” Lowery said. “He told them he needed some money. He said he was going to go rob a bank and get $25,000 and buy them some pretty new clothes, and then he was going to shoot them and kill them and send them to heaven. He told my daughter she was the first one who was going to be killed.”
Lowery said her daughter talked Pettiford into stopping at the restaurant because she needed to use the bathroom. Once inside, the girls locked themselves in the restroom and called Lowery, who called police.
Officers arrived around 8 p.m. and found Pettiford unarmed but acting strangely, according to court records. He failed field sobriety tests, refused to give a blood sample, couldn’t understand the questions police asked and thought it was already midnight, police officer Elizabeth Vail wrote in a warrant.
Pettiford has written for the News Sentinel, where he worked as a community news correspondent until 2003, and most recently for the weekly Knoxville Journal.
The Journal’s office was closed Friday. A woman whoanswered the phone said Pettiford no longer works there.
Court records show Pettiford has a history of convictions for DUI, shoplifting and credit card fraud. He remained in jail Friday night with bond set at $406,500.