Testimony concludes in Green trial
WAYNESBURG – The final day of testimony in the homicide-by-vehicle trial of Jerod A. Green, 36, of Morgantown, W.Va., who was involved in police chase that ended in a crash that claimed the life of Monongalia County, W.Va., Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Michael Todd May, was at times contentious Wednesday.
With testimony concluded, attorneys will present closing arguments and the jury will receive its instructions from President Judge William Nalitz this morning before beginning its deliberations.
The morning began with the jury being taken to the state police impound lot in Waynesburg to assess damages to the Chevrolet Silverado driven by Green, and the Jeep driven by May.
After returning, defense attorney John Bongivengo cross-examined Cpl. John Weaver, an accident reconstruction expert for the state police. On Tuesday, Weaver told the jury the accident occurred in the passing lane of I-79 while May was initiating a turning movement that would have positioned him to head south on the interstate. He said his reconstruction showed Green was traveling at a speed of 85 mph at the time of impact and both vehicles were turning to the right. May’s speed was estimated to be 31 mph. Weaver said there was no indication Green had applied the brakes of the Silverado at any point after he entered the highway.
Weaver said he could not determine what Green or May were thinking and could reconstruct the accident based only on the evidence. Bongivengo asked if Weaver took into consideration that the accident occurred at night and the lights of the officers’ cars behind him might have adversely affected Green’s vision. Weaver suggested it may have had the opposite effect. The lights shining from behind Green may have illuminated his view of the highway ahead, he noted.
Bongivengo also questioned the distance to the northbound Mt. Morris exit from the scene of the crash and the nearest emergency turnaround. Weaver said the nearest turnaround was almost to the state line and the exit was relatively close, somewhere less than a mile away.
Greene County District Attorney Marjorie Fox asked Weaver if at some point, considering the speed involved, if the two vehicles became close enough that the accident was inevitable? Weaver said it would.
“At or near the same time Sgt. May goes left, if Mr. Green had stayed straight, hit his brakes or pulled over at any point along the interstate, this collision does not occur,” Weaver said. Bongivengo said the same could be said of May stopping halfway into the median.
“What would have happened if Mr. Green proceeds in the exact path and Sgt. May’s vehicle was not in the roadway?” Bongivengo asked. Weaver said staying on that path would have sent Green through the guardrail and over the embankment.
In an effort to refute the accident reconstruction data presented by Weaver, Bongivengo brought Richard A. Bragg, an engineer who specializes in accident reconstruction and analysis, to the stand.
Bragg told the jury the theory applied to the crash by Weaver was well known and accepted, but his conclusion was inaccurate. However, Bragg did not explain in his report on how he came to this conclusion. Instead, he told the jury there was a “very fundamental error that renders it invalid.”
Bragg said his analysis showed May was traveling between 12 to 13 miles per hour, not 31 and that May’s approach at an 85 degree angle also was incorrect. Using Weaver’s diagram, Bragg said it would have been more than 200 degrees, which meant May’s vehicle was approaching from the right sight of Green’s vehicle, not the left as is known, he said. Based on this data, Bragg concluded that May’s Jeep was over the center line and into the right lane of the highway by approximately two and a half feet when the collision occurred.
“If Sgt. May had stayed on the median until Mr. Green’s vehicle passed by his location, this accident doesn’t occur. It occurs because Sgt. May’s abrupt turn onto the roadway at such a speed and in such a short period did not give Mr. Green enough time and distance to initiate maneuvers to avoid the crash,” Bragg said.
When asked if he had visited the impound lot to view the vehicles, reviewed any of the witness statements, or any other materials related to the case Bragg said he had not. Fox asked if he had factored in that Green was under the influence of alcohol.
“I’m not a toxicologist or attempt to quantify the effect of alcohol on perception time,” Bragg said. “It is well known that alcohol does not increase response and reaction time.” But Bragg also said that someone who was not impaired would not have been able to avoid the collision.
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