Former teacher Tad Cum­mins pleads not guilty in fed­eral case

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY STACEY BARCHENGER USA TO­DAY NET­WORK – TEN­NESSEE

Tad Cum­mins, a former Columbia teacher charged with flee­ing the state with one of his stu­dents, has pleaded not guilty in the case.

Cum­mins en­tered the plea in a court fil­ing and waived his ap­pear­ance for an ar­raign­ment hear­ing that had been sched­uled for Thurs­day. It’s com­mon for de­fen­dants to plead not guilty early in a case.

The 50-year-old was charged ear­lier this month with ob­struc­tion of jus­tice and trans­port­ing a mi­nor across state lines for the pur­pose of en­gag­ing in crim­i­nal sex­ual con­duct. The 15-year-old girl, El­iz­a­beth Thomas, was Cum­mins’ former stu­dent.

Cum­mins and the girl were found in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, in a re­mote for­est cabin, on April 20, weeks af­ter they dis­ap­peared. The girl was safe and re­turned to her fam­ily.

If found guilty in the case, Cum­mins could face a min­i­mum prison term of 10 years.

Ear­lier this month, an FBI agent tes­ti­fied that the teacher

told authorities he had sex with the girl most nights dur­ing the 38 days he was on the run with her.

The 50-year-old mar­ried teacher, who is a fa­ther and grand­fa­ther, said the sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with the girl be­gan the first night af­ter they dis­ap­peared March 13, FBI Agent Ut­ley No­ble said dur­ing tes­ti­mony at a de­ten­tion hear­ing in a fed­eral court in Nashville.

They de­cided to call them­selves John and Joanne Cas­tro and tell peo­ple they were mar­ried, and he was 40 and she 24, the FBI agent tes­ti­fied. In the days be­fore he left with the girl, No­ble said, Cum­mins had ac­tu­ally looked up teen mar­riage and age of con­sent on the in­ter­net.

Tes­ti­mony at the de­ten­tion and pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing showed that Cum­mins spent $1,500 on a two-seat kayak, and he and the stu­dent used it to try to get to Mex­ico. They tried to kayak from San Diego to Mex­ico, but the wa­ters were too treach­er­ous, No­ble said, and they de­cided it was too risky go­ing into Mex­ico on foot. Cum­mins de­cided to use the name Cas­tro be­cause it was a His­panic name and he thought they would be bet­ter off por­tray­ing them­selves as hav­ing that her­itage if they were go­ing south of the bor­der.

Cum­mins, a res­pi­ra­tory ther­a­pist by train­ing, was a men­tor to stu­dents at the Culleoka Unit School and kids would of­ten go to him with their prob­lems, the FBI agent said. Culleoka is a com­mu­nity about 60 miles south of Nashville near the Alabama line. He would tell stu­dents he had been in the FBI, the CIA and the mil­i­tary and “had the abil­ity to get lost,” No­ble said.

The fe­male stu­dent had been a vic­tim of bul­ly­ing at school, as well as phys­i­cal and ver­bal abuse at home and she was afraid for her safety at both home and school, No­ble tes­ti­fied. The girl, he said, thought of Cum­mins as a men­tor she could turn to.

A lawyer for Cum­mins re­peat­edly asked the FBI agent if there was any ev­i­dence the girl was held against her will at any time on the trip from Columbia, Tenn., to Cal­i­for­nia. The agent said there was no ev­i­dence.

Tad Cum­mins

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