After deliberating into the late night, a Maumee Municipal Court jury today acquitted a Flint, Mich., truck driver of misdemeanor charges in the deaths of three people.
John Neal Tucker, 66, was found not guilty of three counts each of vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter in the Aug. 4, 2011, deaths of James South, 68, of Monclova Township; Dale Barnhiser, 52, of Grand Rapids, Ohio, and Jodi Lubas, 40, of Maumee in a chain reaction crash on I-475 at the Manley Road overpass in Springfield Township.
A jury of six men and two women heard testimony from some 20 witnesses over two-and-a-half days then began deliberations about 3:30 p.m. The verdicts were returned about 9 p.m., signaling the difficulty the panel had in deciding whether Mr. Tucker was negligent as the prosecution contended or whether it was simply an accident as his defense attorney claimed.
“On behalf of Mr. Tucker, I can say there are no winners in this case,” defense attorney George Gerken said Friday night. “Many people’s lives were affected by this… but the jury made the decision, and we think it’s the right decision."
Maumee City Prosecutor John Arnsby could not be reached for comment after the verdict.
Prosecutors said Mr. Barnhiser and Ms. Lubas were “good Samaritans” who stopped to see if they could help after Mr. South attempted to merge onto the interstate from Dussel Drive and collided with a northbound semi driven by Michael Borowy.
Mr. South’s pickup went into a spin and wound up facing the wrong way in the right lane of I-475 on the bridge over the Ohio Turnpike. Six minutes later, Mr. Tucker’s rig, which was pulling double trailers, came over the bridge and slammed into the disabled black pickup, killing Mr. Tucker, Ms. Lubas, and Mr. Barnhiser.
Numerous witnesses testified about the lighting and weather conditions on I-475 the morning of the crash. It was dark out, but the bridge where the accidents occurred was well-lit.
Maumee Prosecutor John Arnsby reminded the jury in his closing arguments today that other cars and trucks that passed by the first accident saw it, slowed down, and moved to the left lane.
“The defendant should have been able to see that vehicle in the roadway,” Mr. Arnsby said. “…He had to have been distracted. He had to have been complacent.”
Mr. Gerken told the jury it was a tragic accident and urged them to look not at the deadly result but at the actions that preceded it.
“He wasn’t speeding. He didn’t have drugs in his system. He wasn’t on the phone. He wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t distracted,” Mr. Gerken said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at email@example.com or 419-213-2134..