Skip to comments.Body in car identified as license examiner - Update on Memphis, Tennesse License Examine
Posted on 02/13/2002 2:42:31 PM PST by Shermy
By Bill Dries, firstname.lastname@example.org
A Memphis woman allegedly at the center of a scheme to sell fraudulent Tennessee driver's licenses was identified Tuesday as the person whose burned body was found early Sunday in the wreckage of a car in Fayette County. L icense examiner Katherine Smith was probably alive when her car hit a utility pole on U.S. 72 near the Mississippi state line, said Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Mark Fagan.
Smith, 49, died the day before she was due to appear before a federal magistrate judge for a detention hearing on a charge of conspiracy to obtain fraudulent identification documents.
The Highway Patrol and the FBI were continuing a joint investigation Tuesday into the one-car crash. The agencies are also working together in the ongoing criminal investigation into the fraud charge. Fagan said investigators want to know if the fatal car wreck and the driver's license scheme "intertwine criminally," or if Smith's death was a coincidence.
"We're not ruling out anything. We're looking at all aspects of that investigation," he said by phone from Nashville.
"We have a crash. We have a car that's hit a pole and we know it burned. Now, what sequence - that's part of the investigation."
Smith and five co-defendants were arrested Feb. 5 after they left the state driver testing station on Summer Avenue. Prosecutors said Smith had processed four driver's license applications that morning based on false information provided by co-defendant Khaled Odtllah, 31, of Shelby County.
Smith, describing Odtllah as a friend, told authorities that he had asked her to help him obtain driver's licenses six or seven times before.
Codefendants Mohammed Fares, Mostafa Said Abou-Shahin and Abdelmuhsen Mahmid Hammad are scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate judge today. The FBI said the men drove to Memphis from New York last week to get Tennessee driver's licenses. Their ages and addresses were unavailable.
Odtllah and Sakhera Hammad, 24, of New York City, the other alleged middleman, made their appearance on Monday, when they were ordered held without bond until trial.
The FBI has custody of Smith's charred Acura, which she bought from Odtllah, at an undisclosed location in Memphis, said Memphis FBI spokesman George Bolds.
"(Smith) was the subject of a pending FBI investigation. Her death coming at the time it did is very coincidental. We're looking at that," Bolds said. "As best we can, we'd like to recreate what happened and try to determine whether or not there was any sort of foul play in connection with her death or whether it was an auto accident."
At Monday's hearing, federal prosecutor Tim DiScenza described Smith's death as "most unusual and suspicious." He also said two of her co-defendants had "connections" to the World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Attorney Anthony Helm, representing Odtllah, accused DiScenza of raising the terrorism issue based solely on the Middle East origins of Smith's co-defendants. While Smith was released on her own recognizance pending Monday's hearing, her co-defendants have remained in federal custody since their arrest.
Smith's burned body was found in the 1992 Acura Sunday morning shortly after midnight. She was traveling westbound on U.S. 72 near the intersection with county route 196, Fagan said. At that point, the car veered off the road, went through a ditch and hit a utility pole.
The car caught fire, but the gas tank did not explode, FBI agent J. Suzanne Nash testified Monday.
Citing a report from the Shelby County Medical Examiner's Office, Fagan said Smith was identified through dental records and that there was evidence she had inhaled smoke. To a layman, Fagan said, the evidence suggests Smith was alive when the car caught fire.
"You obviously would have to be breathing to inhale smoke, which would tell you that she was not deceased prior to impact."
The Shelby County Medical Examiner's Office referred all questions to Dr. Frank S. McKnight, the Fayette County medical examiner. McKnight's office referred all questions to the Highway Patrol.
The Highway Patrol has assigned a "critical incident response team" to the case. Fagan described the team as a "highly specialized unit of troopers'' trained in all aspects of crash investigation.
Gene Marquez, resident agent in charge of the Memphis office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the ATF is contributing an ATF-certified fire investigator cross- trained as an explosives expert.
Related Commerical Appeal story [Feb 13]: Stricter rules for aliens may rise from wreck
WMC-TV 5 Check out stories and video links.
Earlier FR thread: Feds fear license examiner is dead - Memphis Woman's co-defendants tied to 9/11, judge told
A link to the Washington D.C. tow truck bust:
Two Middle East men arrested outside Pentagon - Fake drivers licenses spur troopers to call in FBI
And a link to the North Carolina attempted fuel truck hijacking:
Fuel Truck Highjack Stopped in North Carolina [Feb. 13]
Fox said they would discuss this at 7pm...they said earlier today that the fuel tank didnt cause the fire or the engine..
Getting the tin foil hat out...
Perhaps an incindenary device was remotely set off in the car cabin while she was driving. Or she stopped by the road and was pushed further off. For some reason she was unconscious--and the cabin was then torched.
Those are a few ideas I have. The stories generally read, as I assumed, that she hit a "pole" next to the road, like a traffic light. Untrue.
Nothing to look at here people. MOVE ALONG!
Simpler and less traceable bound and fed a breathing mixture rich in Carbon monoxide. When unconcious the fire deatroys the body and removes any and all traces of restraints.
Stay well - stay safe - Stay armed - Yorktown
Piperton Car Crash Investigated By FBI by Sherri Osteen The FBI is investigating a fiery car crash, which occurred south of Piperton early Sunday morning. Authorities were called to the intersection of Highway 72 and Highway 196 on February 10th at 12:53 A.M. where they found a 4-door, 1992 Accura Legend burning out of control. A female body discovered in the vehicle was burned beyond recognition. Sheriff Bill Kelley told the Review a report filed by the Tennessee Highway Patrol indicates the automobile was traveling westbound on Highway 72 when it veered off the road, struck a utility pole and immediately burst into flames.
Or her rudder came off...
The NTSB is currently investigating the incident...
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