JETTA FRASER / TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge
Just before 2 a.m. on Oct. 21, Noel Papenfuse was driving with a car full of friends when he collided with a pickup that backed into the street in front of him, a Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury was told Tuesday.
Now the jury must decide whether the crash that killed the three young men in Mr. Papenfuse’s vehicle was the result of his reckless act.
A jury of seven women and five men will hear closing arguments Wednesday before beginning deliberations in Mr. Papenfuse’s aggravated vehicular homicide trial. The 22-year-old Toledo man is charged with three counts of aggravated vehicular homicide for the deaths of his three friends during the crash.
If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in jail.
During opening statements, Assistant County Prosecutor Jeff Lingo recounted what officers encountered when they arrived on scene in the 5400 block of North Detroit Avenue. A car driven by Mr. Papenfuse and a pickup driven by 68-year-old Paul Never collided with such force that the truck was forced up on its side and the crushed car spun dozens of feet, Mr. Lingo said.
Killed in the crash were Toledo cousins Bryan Richardson, Jr., 20, and Bradley Richardson, Jr., 21, as well as their friend Noah McFadden, 23, of Sylvania, all passengers in Mr. Papenfuse’s car.
Mr. Lingo said that accident investigators determined that Mr. Papenfuse was driving 79 mph in a 45-mph zone before he slammed on the brakes. When the impact occurred, he added, the car was traveling at 63 mph.
It was Mr. Papenfuse’s speed at the time of the collision that the state believes constitutes recklessness, Mr. Lingo said.
“It was excessive speed, and with alcohol in his system, on a dark, wet night that caused the death of his three friends,” he said.
Attorney Jerry Phillips acknowledged during opening statements that Mr. Papenfuse was involved in the crash but asked jurors to question whether he was the cause. Calling it a “perfect storm of an accident,” Mr. Phillips pointed out that there were a number of factors involved.
Mr. Phillips told jurors that Never was in a black vehicle backing out into traffic and noted that Never failed to yield, or even stop, at the curb before backing out. He said that while Mr. Papenfuse may have had “bad judgment” in regards to speed, he was not reckless that night.
“Noel Papenfuse is with his friends … coming down his lane of travel with his lights on, yet Mr. Never begins to back, back, back into the southbound lane,” he said.
Jurors heard evidence from six state witnesses Tuesday, including two deputy Lucas County coroners who testified that each of the victims died of multiple blunt force trauma as a result of a crash. Jurors also viewed 52 photographs taken of the scene, depicting the crushed vehicles, lengthy skid marks, and point of collision.
Officer Dennis Cole, an accident reconstruction expert, testified about various measurements and formulas used to calculate speeds and positioning of vehicles. He testified that had Mr. Papenfuse begun braking at the same point but had been going the speed limit, there would have been “almost no collision” or if the vehicles had collided, they would have hit at 1 or 2 mph.
Officer Cole also testified when questioned by the defense that Never violated several traffic laws, including failing to yield right-of-way, backing into the wrong way of travel, and driving under the influence.
Never’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was 0.13 percent, the officer testified. In Ohio, drivers are considered under the influence of alcohol if they have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.
Officer Sydney P. Lark testified that an upset Mr. Papenfuse told him while at the hospital on the night of the crash that he had been the designated driver. He further testified that Mr. Papenfuse admitted drinking “two beers and a Long Island Ice Tea.”
The officer acknowledged when questioned by Mr. Phillips that although he recalls noticing glassy eyes and slurred speech, he did not document the observations. He said that Mr. Papenfuse was not charged with driving under the influence.
Mr. Papenfuse was not asked to conduct any field sobriety tests because of his injuries, the officer testified.
According to court records, Never of Ottawa Lake, Mich., pleaded guilty July 19 to three counts of aggravated vehicular homicide for his role in the crash. He faces up to 15 years in prison when sentenced Monday.
The trial, over which Judge Stacy Cook is presiding, will resume Wednesday with any defense witnesses and closing arguments.
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.