Plea Entered in Court Case Involving Death of ‘Beloved Friend’ Fritts, 26
CLINTON, Tenn. — On a cloud-filled, rainy Monday afternoon, Troy Andrew Venable of Oak Ridge, Tenn., entered a “best interest plea” to a charge of criminally negligent homicide regarding the October 2016 death of 26-year-old Lauren Fritts, also of Oak Ridge.
As part of Venable’s plea, the 30-year-old was given a two-year sentence — but will be credited with time served in Anderson County jail and be on supervised probation.
Regardless, ”[This conviction is] going to be on your record from now on,” Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge told Venable, who stood before the judge in the Anderson County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, along with Venable’s attorney, Mike Ritter of Oak Ridge.
Deputy District Attorney General Anthony Craighead quickly read through the circumstances believed to have occurred before Fritts’ lifeless body was found in the bathroom of a Tacoma Road residence late Saturday morning, Oct. 8, 2016.
An expert medical witness, according to Ritter, confirmed that Fritts had died of an acute combined overdose of alcohol and drugs. The state prosecutors had reduced the original Class D charge of reckless homicide against Venable down to the criminally negligent homicide charge, which is a lesser Class E felony.
During Monday’s plea hearing it was explained that by entering the “best interest plea,” Venable wasn’t saying he was guilty of the charge, but that he felt accepting this plea agreement was a better arrangement than having a trial and being found guilty of the charge and sentenced by the court.
District Attorney’s Comments
Contacted by The Oak Ridger late Monday afternoon, District Attorney General Dave Clark of the 7th Judicial District said this was a “mixed toxicity case.” The legal challenge in the case was that no one drug — alcohol, roxicodone or heroin — would have killed Fritts; and those three substances reportedly were obtained from three different people. And, all of that being said, the coroner also ruled Fritts’ death was accidental. Therefore, regarding the plea deal, “I think it’s all that could be done under these circumstances,” according to DA Clark.
At the time of her death, the 26-year-old Lauren Alexandra Fritts, an Oak Ridge native, worked for the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce as a member and customer representative.
She had worked for the Chamber for about three years — and reportedly started as a “temp.” Fritts was described as an “enthusiastic young professional with just a very, very sort of anything-is-possible attitude.”
“She wasn’t just an associate,” Parker Hardy, president and CEO of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, shared with The Oak Ridger immediately following Fritts’ death. “Lauren WAS Oak Ridge.”
Born Aug. 5, 1990, Lauren Fritts attended St. Mary’s School and graduated in 2009 from Oak Ridge High School, where she was an acclaimed, All-State goalkeeper for the ORHS Lady Wildcats’ varsity girls’ soccer team.
She attended Roane State Community College and East Tennessee State University, from which she received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management.
At the time of her death, survivors included a 3-year-old son, Lauren’s father Steven Fritts, her sister “and best friend” Leah Fritts, her mother and stepfather Janie and Chris Conner, and others.
A funeral Mass was held at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
“I think she touched a lot of people in her personal and professional life who really loved her,” the Chamber’s Parker Hardy said at the time of Lauren Fritts’ death.
In the Anderson County courtroom this Monday afternoon, Venable’s grandparents and wife were there in Clinton on his behalf.
Deputy DA Anthony Craighead said — in open court on Monday — that Lauren Fritts’ father was “very upset” about the plea deal.
Another Fritts’ family member has indicated in a Facebook post that the local judicial system has failed Lauren Fritts and others in similar situations. “Lauren, I love you and miss you every single day,” that post states.
Donna Smith can be contacted at (865) 220-5514. Follow her on Twitter @ridgernewsed. Darrell Richardson contributed to this article.