Two local fast-food employees appear to have dodged the proverbial bullet last week after having a close encounter with a Tennessee man accused in the death of a Eubank woman.
Bradley Allan McMahan, 34, of Maryville, has been charged with murder in connection to Thursday morning's discovery of 59-year-old Johnnie Faye Davis dead inside her home on Goodhope Church Road.
The Pulaski County Major Crimes Task Force, leading the investigation, identified McMahan as a person of interest early and were searching for McMahan throughout the day. Though it was suspected that he may have returned to Tennessee, where the Blount County Sheriff's Office has also issued an alert, the suspect was ultimately located at approximately 3:36 p.m. Thursday afternoon when the Somerset Police Department, acting on a tip, stopped a pickup truck he was driving on East Mt Vernon Street.
Prior to his capture, McMahan was spotted at Sonic Drive-In on US 27 in Somerset -- where two servers say they had bizarre interactions with him.
Brenda Coshnitzke and Lakeisha Helton told the Commonwealth Journal that the incident happened late Thursday morning. Helton was at the break table around back of the restaurant when a man driving a white truck pulled in and asked for directions to Pulaski County High School.
"He's not a regular [customer]," Helton said. "I'd never seen him before. He kind of acted like he wasn't from here. He had a tiller in the back and said he was up here to sell it to someone."
Helton added the man claimed he couldn't use GPS because he lost his boot -- where he kept his cell phone -- in a creek. When she gave him the directions, he then asked how much longer she was on break -- adding he wanted her to get in so she could show him where the school was.
"I thought that was kind of a weird question, so I told him my break was over," Helton said, adding she went back inside to tell her coworkers.
Instead of leaving, the man apparently pulled around into one of the drive-in's stalls and ordered a large Coke. It was Coshnitzke that waited on him.
"He opened the door because he said the window motor wasn't working," she recalled. "I noticed he wasn't wearing shoes."
Coshnitzke said she took the man's money and was going back to get change when he put in an order for mozzarella sticks. She was able to confirm with Helton that he was the same man she had spoken to moments earlier. When Coshnitzke brought the mozzarella sticks, he complained -- saying he meant to order onion rings -- so she went back inside to fix the order.
"I don't how you confuse mozzarella sticks and onion rings," Coshnitzke said. "I came back out and he had backed his truck next to the dumpster. I hesitated because I thought that was weird."
Though she had a gut feeling something was wrong, Coshnitzke nevertheless went to deliver the order and change. It was then she claims the man snatched her hand and tried to pull her inside the truck. Luckily, she was able to yank her hand out of his grasp and back away out of his reach.
"He yelled at me, 'What are you doing?' And I said 'what the h--- are you doing?" Coshnitzke recounted. "He just said 'sorry,' then slammed the door and drove away."
Helton urged her to take a picture of the vehicle, which she did. The incident was reported to management and Coshnitzke assumed her manager would call the police. She called herself a couple of hours later when she began to wonder why no officer had arrived.
Once the officers arrived to take statements from her and Helton, Coshnitzke realized they were already looking for the man -- for a whole other reason. "They knew who it was; they showed me a picture of him," she said, adding she's grateful McMahan was soon arrested without harming anyone else. "It's a blessing he didn't leave town…
"Had I not called the police to make sure they were looking, who knows what would have happened," Coshnitzke continued. "He might have taken another victim by the time he was found."
Helton didn't realize the man was an accused murderer until she saw news about his arrest Friday morning. "It's devastating to think he went to someone's house deliberately and would do that," she said.
Captain Mike Correll of the Somerset Police Department said Monday that several people have been interviewed in regard to the incident, which is still under investigation. Rick Collins, general manager of Sonic's Somerset location, said the restaurant is cooperating with authorities and referred further questions to owner Brandon Keck. Keck's office referred questions to Sonic's corporate office.
"We have learned about an incident that occurred at the drive-in on Nov. 1 when a carhop reported being grabbed by a guest," Kristin Davis, Sonic Corporation's Director of Communications, stated. "According to the franchisee who owns and operates the drive-in, the manager on duty contacted an off-duty police officer. The matter has since been turned over to local authorities.
"Any additional questions should be directed to local police regarding status of the case," she continued. "It is SONIC's policy and practice not to comment on matters that are the subject of ongoing criminal investigations or proceedings."
McMahan, meanwhile, remains lodged in the Pulaski County Detention Center on the charge of murder. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday afternoon in Pulaski District Court.