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Former NASCAR driver, son of Zaxby's co-founder killed in Athens shooting

John Wes Townley

By Joe Johnson

John Wes Townley, a former professional stock car racer and son of Zaxby’s co-founder Tony Townley was killed in Athens Saturday night in what police said was a domestic violence incident.

According to Athens-Clarke County police Public Information Officer Lt. Shaun Barnett, at about 8:44 p.m. officers responded to a residence in the 200 block of Morton Avenue regarding a shooting.

The house reportedly was occupied by a 30-year-old woman who was Townley’s estranged wife, Laura Townley, and a 32-year-old Dunwoody man.

According to court records, The Townleys were married in October 2018, and John Townley filed for divorce on Feb. 3 of this year on the grounds he and his wife were living in separation and their marriage was irretrievably broken.

Laura Townley was residing at the Morton Avenue residence when the petition for divorce was filed, court records note.

The divorce case was still pending when John Townley was killed.

Townley was said by sources to have been armed with an axe when he entered the house at 240 Morton Avenue and the Dunwoody man fatally shot him and Laura Townley was accidently struck by gunfire.

“I can’t confirm any of those details right now.” Barnett said Sunday afternoon. “We are not ruling out that this was potentially a self-defense case related to a domestic violence type incident. However, the investigation is still ongoing.”

The shooter has not been charged, according to Barnett, who said the female victim was transported to the hospital with serious injuries.

Police have not released the name of the shooter or victims, but Athens-Clarke County Coroner Sonny Wilson identified the deceased victim as John Wes Townley, who had a driver’s license with the 240 Morton Avenue address, but was living with his parents in Oconee County at the time of the incident.

According to, Townley raced in NASCAR throughout the late 2000s and 2010s mostly with the backing of his family's chain of fried chicken restaurants. After developing a penchant for crashing cars early in his career, Townley would eventually develop into a respectable driver that enjoyed most of his success in the Truck Series.

He last competed professionally in the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, according to his Wikipedia page,

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Oct 03, 2021

Joe Johnson, thank you for your hard work keeping us up to date with what's going on in Athens and surrounding counties.

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