Police: former NASCAR racer Townley wielded hatchet when fatally shot during domestic dispute


John Wes and Laura Townley

By Joe Johnson

Former NASCAR driver John Wes Townley was fatally shot Saturday night in Athens during a domestic dispute in which he wielded a hatchet, Athens-Clarke County police confirmed in a Monday morning news release.

Classic City News on Sunday reported details of the incident gathered from sources, but police were not prepared to confirm at the time.

According to the release, a man identified as 32-year-old Zachary Anderson of Dunwoody was in the Morton Avenue home where Townley’s estranged wife, Laura Townley, resided and became involved in an altercation with the former racer when John Townley arrived at the residence with a hatchet.

Police said officers responded at about 8:44 p.m. to a report of a shooting at a residence in the 200 block of Morton Avenue in the Five Points section of town.

“Shortly after Mr. Townley arrived at the residence, there was an altercation between Mr. Townley and Mr. Anderson involving a hatchet. At some point during the altercation, Anderson fired several shots from his firearm,” according to the police release. “As a result, Ms. Townley and Mr. Townley were struck.”

A police incident report indicates that when Anderson fired his gun he struck John Townley in the chest and Laura Townley in the abdomen.

The Townleys were transported to the hospital, where John, 31, subsequently died and Laura, 30, remained in serious condition but was expected to survive, according to police.

Anderson has not been charged.

“We are not ruling out that this was potentially a self-defense case related to a domestic violence type incident, Athens-Clarke County police spokesman Lt. Shaun Barnett said. “However, the investigation is still ongoing.”

The incident occurred while John Townley, married to Laura in October 2018, had a divorce case pending in Clarke County Superior Court. The police incident report erroneously stated that the divorce had been finalized earlier in the week of the shooting.

Less than a year after the couple married, in August 2019, John Townley pleaded guily to disorderly conduct in a plea bargain that dismissed battery charges for a domestic violence incident in which he threw his wife to the ground, according to court records. He was semtenced to 12 months on probation and ordered to complete a Family Violence Intervention Program.

According to court records, Laura Townley was residing at 240 Morton Ave, while John Townley reportedly had been living with his parents in Oconee County.

John Townley filed for divorce on Feb. 3, on the grounds he and his wife had been living in a state of separation and their marriage was irretrievably broken, according to court records.

The former racer was son of Tony Townley, co-founder of the Zaxby’s chain of fried chicken restaurants.

According to cbssports.com, Townley raced in NASCAR throughout the late 2000s and 2010s mostly with the backing of Zaxby's. 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,

Police said the investigation of the fatal shooting was ongoing, and they asked for anyone with information regarding the incident to contact Detective Scott Black at (762) 400-7058 or scott.black@accgov.com.

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