Closing arguments were presented Thursday morning in the jury trial of a Kentucky man charged with aggravated vehicular homicide.
After an hour-and-a-half of deliberation, the five-woman, seven-man jury found the defendant, Eric D. Maher, not guilty of the charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. The jury did find Maher guilty to the charge of vehicular homicide, a first-degree misdemeanor, on the basis that he acted negligently, not recklessly, in a Sept. 24, 2015 accident near the Village of Staunton.
Maher was indicted in April on charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and vehicular homicide after the 2004 Peterbilt tractor-trailer he was operating overturned on a curve and spilled some of its cargo load.
A Washington C.H. man was killed in the accident. Dale E. Patton, 68, hit a guardrail in the red Jeep he was driving.
In the crash report filed with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, Maher wrote that he slowed down for the curve accordingly and he estimated he was traveling at 35 to 40 miles per hour.
The speed limit of the highway before the curve is 45 miles per hour.
Donald Rack has worked as an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper as Department of Transportation commercial vehicle inspector for the last 14 years. He makes traffic stops on commercial vehicles and tractor-trailers, doing driver and vehicle inspections and looking for violations. He was called to the crash to do an inspection.
He took photographs of the tractor-trailer. These photographs indicated violations with the tractor-trailer.
Violations included cracks in the brake lines, rear tire tread less than 1/32 inch, holes in the brake chambers, loose brake lines with missing rivets, brakes with broken lines, a tire with cuts and chunks out of it on the outside, a break in the exhaust, and low securement of the load that was being transported on the semi-trailer.
The tractor-trailer was hauling thousands of pounds of cardboard boxes that were flattened and baled together with wire. The bales were strapped onto the semi-trailer. Several loose and damaged straps were found at the scene of the accident.
Upon inspection of the log book for the truck, there was no valid entry on the log book for inspection of the truck on the date of the accident, according to Rack.
But according to testimony from Maher and the owner of the semi-trailer, Shane Middleton, of Morehead, Ky., both men said they had walked around the truck before it left that day for Columbus and that the straps had been double-checked.
According to Rack, the semi-trailer should not have been in operation.
He said that while a small crack in the brake line wouldn’t necessarily put the tractor-trailer out of order, it would be a violation when you take the tally of the number of brake lines that had defects.
He said commercial drivers should be doing inspections of their vehicles because they are required to by the state and that information should be recorded in the log book or on a driver inspection sheet.
A charge of vehicular homicide means Maher acted negligently in operating the tractor-trailer, meaning that he acted with a lapse of due care.
And while the jury thought Maher acted carelessly, the jury didn’t think the state proved that Maher acted recklessly, which was a required element for aggravated vehicular homicide.
“We were all in agreement with the vehicular homicide but not with the aggravated vehicular homicide. We just didn’t feel the state proved it,” said one of the female jurors after the close of the trial. She preferred not to be named.
Another juror, when asked how the jury came to their decision, said she preferred not to be named in the media and said, “It’s a very sad situation for both sides.”
Maher is scheduled to appear for sentencing Oct. 24.
Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton