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John Wes Townley who was shot dead by ex-wife’s new lover was domestic abuser

Former NASCAR driver John Wes Townley, who was shot dead in Georgia over the weekend during a dispute involving his ex-wife, another man and a hatchet, pleaded guilty in a domestic abuse case and was sentenced to probation two years ago, court documents show.  

Townley, 31, was shot in the chest just before 9pm on Saturday in the 200 block of Morton Avenue in the Five Points area of Athens, Georgia, just days after his marriage to Laura Townley was formally dissolved.  

Laura Townley, 30, was struck by gunfire and wounded after the man she was with at the time, 32-year-old Zachary Anderson, allegedly opened fire on John Wes Townley, who was said to be brandishing an ax.

The incident comes more than two years after the former NASCAR driver was charged with battery-family violence, simple battery and disorderly conduct. 

According to court records reviewed by DailyMail.com, in August 2019, the NASCAR driver threw his wife, Laura, to the floor, leaving her ‘in reasonable fear of the safety of her life, limb and health.’

Less than three weeks later, Townley agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct, and in exchange prosecutors agreed to drop the battery charges against him. 

John Wes Townley, 31, was shot dead in Athens, Georgia, on Saturday during a dispute involving his ex-wife, whom he had attacked in August 2019

Townley married nurse Laura Townley (pictured) in 2018 after the pair met through dating app 'Match'

Laura Townley

Townley married nurse Laura Townley in 2018 after the pair met through dating app ‘Match.’ The couple had recently filed for divorce

On September 3, 2019, Townley was sentenced to a year of probation and a small fine. Under the conditions of his supervised release, Townley was barred from harassing, intimidating, or having any violent contact with Laura.   

The house in Athens, where the deadly confrontation took place on Saturday, was occupied by Townley’s now-ex-wife and Anderson, of Dunwoody, according to local site Classic City News

Townley is reported to have entered the property armed with an ax before Anderson somehow got hold of a gun and fatally shot him, accidentally hitting Laura with gunfire in the abdomen in the process. 

The ex-race driver, who is the son of the millionaire co-founder of fried chicken chain Zaxby’s, was rushed to hospital and later died of his injuries.  

Laura Townley remains in a ‘serious’ condition but is expected to survive. 

This court document from August 15, 2019, shows the three charges that had been brought against Townley in connection with a domestic violence incident

This court document from August 15, 2019, shows the three charges that had been brought against Townley in connection with a domestic violence incident 

Townley was sentenced to 12 months of probation and a fine in September 2019

Townley was sentenced to 12 months of probation and a fine in September 2019 

Lt Shaun Barnett, an Athens Police Department spokesperson, told DailyMail.com that Anderson has not been arrested or charged with any crime as of Monday afternoon. 

‘We are not ruling self-defense out as a possibility,’ Barnett said.

The spokesperson stressed that the investigation into the fatal shooting is still ongoing. 

Barnett added that the relationship between Laura Townley and Anderson was not clear, but he said it is known they were ‘acquaintances.’ 

Court records state that the Townleys, who were married in October 2018, filed for divorce on February 3 of this year and had been living apart. 

The divorce was finalized last week, according to a police report cited by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  

Townley married nurse Laura Townley from Florence, South Carolina, in 2018 after the pair met through dating app 'Match' (pictured together in a Facebook post)

Townley married nurse Laura Townley from Florence, South Carolina, in 2018 after the pair met through dating app ‘Match’ (pictured together in a Facebook post)

The shooting took place in the 200 block of Morton Avenue in the Five Points area of Athens (pictured: Morton Avenue)

The shooting took place in the 200 block of Morton Avenue in the Five Points area of Athens (pictured: Morton Avenue)

Laura had been living at the Morton Avenue address when the petition for divorce was filed. 

The divorce was still pending at the time of Townley’s death. 

It is not believed that the couple had any children together. 

Police earlier said that a 30-year-old woman was injured. They have not identified her as Laura Townley.

Barnett said that the investigation was ongoing but early indications were that it was a ‘domestic incident.’ 

Born in Watkinsville, Townley is the son of Tony Townley, whose fast food chain Zaxby’s owned and sponsored the cars he competed in. 

He married nurse Laura Townley from Florence, South Carolina, after the pair met through dating app ‘Match’ in 2016.

Figures from NASCAR, including former drivers and journalists who knew Townley have paid tribute to him online.

Current NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace, who raced against him, tweeted: ‘Damn. Rest Easy JWT. Heartbreaking.’

Jeff Hood, who works for the family business Zaxby’s, posted on Facebook: ‘For 17 years, I accompanied John Wes Townley to race tracks throughout the United States and Canada. He was a brother to me.

‘I spent a portion of Saturday afternoon Oct. 2nd catching up with him at the Arkansas/Georgia football game. Six hours later, his life on this earth concluded. 

‘Behind the scenes, JWT was a caring, tender-hearted, compassionate person. That’s how I’ll always remember him. I miss you and love you, my dear friend.’  

Townley drove a car owned by his father, who was a co-founder of the vehicle's primary sponsor, fried chicken chain Zaxby's

Townley drove a car owned by his father, who was a co-founder of the vehicle’s primary sponsor, fried chicken chain Zaxby’s 

Townley, known in the sport as JWT, speaking at a press conference after qualifying for the Arca Racing Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, in July, 2014

Townley, known in the sport as JWT, speaking at a press conference after qualifying for the Arca Racing Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, in July, 2014

NASCAR reporter Chris Knight wrote: ‘I knew John Wes Townley since he entered the sport. He always treated me well, said hi and we checked in with each other once in a while when he left the sport.

‘I am saddened to hear about what happened and my thoughts and prayers are with all the parties involved.’  

Fox sports host Kaitlyn Vincie tweeted: ‘Heartbroken for John Wes Townley’s family. Absolutely devastating. Godspeed JWT.’ 

Townley started driving professionally in 2008 and recorded 186 starts across the Xfinity and Truck Series, NASCAR’s lower two national divisions.

His victory in the Truck Series at Las Vegas six years ago Sunday was the only national series win of his career.

Townley’s car was sponsored by his father’s fast-food chain Zaxby’s.  

Opened in 1990, the chain has more than 900 restaurants across 17 states and Tony Townley’s net worth is reported to be around $10 million.

Tony Townley stepped down from the company around a year ago after big investment from Goldman Sachs, leaving his fellow co-founder and high school buddy Zach McLeroy to run the company. 


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