In taped interview, Michigan trucker says he he hit car, not pickup

Jury hears dark vehicle had no lights on

3/8/2013
BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
John Neal Tucker of Flint, Mich., on trial in Maumee Municipal Court for vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter, talked with a state trooper in a taped interview after the fatal crash on Aug. 4, 2011 that killed three people.
John Neal Tucker of Flint, Mich., on trial in Maumee Municipal Court for vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter, talked with a state trooper in a taped interview after the fatal crash on Aug. 4, 2011 that killed three people.

Though he was not on the witness stand, a Flint, Mich., truck driver charged in the deaths of three people told his story to the jury Thursday by way of a taped interview with state troopers.

Dixon
Dixon

John Neal Tucker, 66, who is charged in Maumee Municipal Court with three counts each of vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter, said he did not see a pickup that was blocking the right lane of I-475 at the Manley Road overpass in the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 2011. He believed the vehicle he hit was a car.

“It was a dark car and no lights,” he told Sgt. Robert Ashenfelter of the Ohio Highway Patrol when asked which vehicle he hit. “It was a car. It wasn’t a pickup truck.”

Mr. Tucker consented to the interview, gave a urine sample, and allowed the trooper to look through his cell phone about three hours after the crash that killed James South, 68, of Monclova Township; Dale Barnhiser, 52, of Grand Rapids, Ohio, and Jodi Lubas, 40, of Maumee.

Mr. South had attempted to merge onto the interstate from Dussel Drive when he collided with a northbound tractor-trailer driven by Michael Borowy. With its front end and headlights smashed, Mr. South’s black Dodge Ram ended up in the right lane of northbound I-475.

Mr. Barnhiser and Mrs. Lubas were among the witnesses who stopped to make sure everyone was OK. Everyone was. But just six minutes after the initial accident, Mr. Tucker’s double-trailer smashed into the disabled pickup.

“It stopped me dead in my tracks,” Diana Dixon, a trucker from Coraopolis, Pa., said on the stand. “All I can say is it was like a Bruce Willis movie. Everything just imploded.”

Ms. Dixon, who witnessed the first accident in her rear-view mirror and had pulled over to help, said that in the moments after the explosive crash, she realized the rig was heading straight for her.

“I closed my eyes, and I jumped,” she said in a quiet voice. “I didn’t know where I was jumping. It didn’t seem important at the time.”

Under cross-examination by defense attorney George Gerken, Ms. Dixon was asked whether she recalled giving a statement to a state trooper from her hospital bed a few days later in which she said, “I remember thinking no one would see [the pickup] because he didn’t have any flashers or lights on.”

She said her memory is “in pieces” about that day, in part because of the traumatic injuries she suffered when she landed on the grassy median of the turnpike below.

But, she said, “When I stop at accidents, my first initial thought is to make sure that everyone else can see what’s going on.”

While investigators have testified that Mr. Tucker’s rig did not malfunction mechanically and that Mr. Tucker was not intoxicated, asleep, using his phone, or speeding at the time of the crash, the question for the six-man, two-woman jury is whether he was negligent that morning, whether he showed a lapse of due care.

Mr. Tucker, through the taped interview, said he’d had an “easy trip” from Columbus that morning — his 65th birthday. Traffic was light. Weather was good. When he approached the bridge over the Ohio Turnpike driving in the right lane, though, he came upon the dark-colored vehicle also in the right lane with no warning.

“It was dark, and I just didn’t notice it at first,” he said. “It happened so fast. As soon as I saw it, I jumped on the brakes.”

He told Sergeant Ashenfelter he didn’t see any people.

His trial is expected to finish today.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.