A 22-year-old Toledo man acting as the designated driver for a car full of friends last October was found guilty of three misdemeanor offenses Wednesday relating to a crash that night that killed three young men.
Noel Papenfuse was acquitted of three counts of felony aggravated vehicular homicide, however, a Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury found him guilty of three lesser counts of vehicular homicide, all first-degree misdemeanors. He faces up to a year and a half in jail when sentenced Oct. 31 by Judge Stacy Cook.
A jury of seven women and five men deliberated for six hours before reaching a verdict. The jury was asked to consider whether Mr. Papenfuse caused the crash and whether his actions were reckless.
Six witnesses -- including four Toledo police officers and two Lucas County deputy coroners -- testified Tuesday about the Oct. 21 crash in the 5400 block of North Detroit Avenue between a pickup and a car.
The crash, which occurred just before 2 a.m., killed Toledo cousins Bryan Richardson, Jr., 20, and Bradley Richardson, Jr., 21, and their friend Noah McFadden, 23, of Sylvania, all passengers in Mr. Papenfuse's car. The three victims were pronounced dead at the scene.
According to trial testimony, accident reconstruction experts determined that Mr. Papenfuse was driving at 79 mph in a 45 mph zone when he began braking for the pickup. At the time of impact, the car was traveling at 63 mph.
Jurors also viewed 52 photos taken of the scene, depicting the crushed vehicles, lengthy skid marks, and point of collision. They also heard testimony that had Mr. Papenfuse been driving the speed limit and began breaking at the same point on the road, the impact would have been negligible.
Although not charged with driving under the influence, Mr. Papenfuse admitted to officers that night that he had been drinking.
During closing arguments, attorney Jerry Phillips pointed to the other driver involved as the cause. Noting that Paul Never, who was in a black pickup, had already pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and that he was legally intoxicated at the time of the crash, Mr. Phillips said it was Never's actions, not Mr. Papenfuse, that caused the deadly crash.
"The cause of this accident was Mr. Never backing out, without stopping at the curb and without waiting for the traffic coming at him," Mr. Phillips said. "… Speed may have contributed to the severity of the accident, but it did not cause the accident."
Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division of the prosecutor's office acknowledged to jurors during closing arguments that they had a difficult decision. But he said that Mr. Papenfuse made choices that night, including drinking alcohol and speeding, that led to a horrific crash.
"The result of the conduct of Mr. Papenfuse was the death of three young men, Bryan Richardson, Jr., Bradley Richardson, Jr., and Noah McFadden," Mr. Lingo said, while holding up a photo of Mr. Papenfuse's crushed vehicle. "His high-speed driving, his reckless driving, resulted in this."
Never, 68, of Ottawa Lake, Mich., pleaded guilty in July to three counts of aggravated vehicular homicide for his involvement in the early morning crash on North Detroit Avenue. He faces up to 15 years in jail and a lifetime driver's license suspension when sentenced Monday by Judge Stacy Cook.
Authorities said Never had been drinking alcohol at Club Chablis, 5405 North Detroit Ave., just prior to the 1:54 a.m. crash. Never pulled out of the parking lot to turn north on North Detroit when his pickup was struck by Mr. Papenfuse's oncoming car.
Never and Mr. Papenfuse were injured in the crash.
Contact Erica Blake at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.