Trial begins for driver who hit pedestrians near casino

Michael Yates, left, sits with his attorney, Jon Richardson, during his bench trial in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
Michael Yates, left, sits with his attorney, Jon Richardson, during his bench trial in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Michael Yates drove over the curb along Miami Street and down a sidewalk without braking or slowing, even after he struck a fire hydrant and, ultimately, two women who were walking to the nearby Hollywood Casino Toledo.

Yates, 42, of 1128 Ironwood Ave. went on trial Tuesday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, charged with aggravated vehicular homicide in the July 21, 2012, death of Stefanie Arnold, 27, of Painesville, Ohio, and vehicular assault for injuries to Chelsea Skoch of Madison, Ohio, who was 23.

PHOTO GALLERY: Inside the Yates trial

The question before Judge Myron Duhart, who is hearing the case, is whether Yates was reckless when he drove with a suspended license and struck them, as prosecutors allege.

Defense attorney Jon Richardson said in his opening statements that Yates was asleep.

“You have to be conscious before you can be reckless,” Mr. Richardson said. “And this evidence you will hear will show you Michael Yates was asleep at the wheel. Michael Yates was not even conscious when his vehicle picked up speed and when he went up on the sidewalk and when he jumped over the curb and when he hit the fire hydrant and, God forbid, a few yards later hit those two women.”

Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division for the prosecutor’s office, told the court in opening statements that toxicology testing showed Yates had the painkiller oxycodone as well as Flexeril, a muscle relaxant, in his system at the time of the crash.

Dr. Robert Forney, a forensic pathologist, “will testify that combination would impair the ability of Mr. Yates to operate his vehicle,” Mr. Lingo said.

Mr. Richardson countered that Yates had “therapeutic levels” of his prescribed medication in his system.

“He had a perfect right and an almost medical duty to take that pill,” Mr. Richardson said. “He has back pain that he got from an automobile accident.”

Both Derek Arnold, whose wife was killed, and his friend Brian Schaedlich testified they had traveled to Toledo from Cleveland with Mr. Arnold’s wife and cousin for an evening at the casino. Both men worked at the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland at the time and therefore could not gamble there.

Mr. Arnold said they checked into the Days Inn on Miami Street and intended to take a taxi to the casino, but none was available. A hotel clerk suggested the four walk the short distance to the casino.

Both men said they dove out of the way when they saw a black sport utility vehicle driving toward them on the sidewalk, while Mrs. Arnold and Ms. Skoch, who were behind them, were struck and thrown into the air. Mr. Arnold said he saw his wife of one year rolling down a hill.

“I ran to her side,” he said. “I had a strong sense that her neck was broken. I didn’t want to move her. I checked her pulse. I listened for her breath.”

Toledo firefighter Anthony Bolger said that when he arrived on the scene, Yates was lying on the street outside his vehicle. He did not appear injured but was lethargic and had “pinpoint pupils,” which Mr. Bolger said is indicative of a drug overdose.

He said he gave Yates, Narcan, a drug that revives people who have overdosed, and by the time they got Yates to a hospital 24 minutes later, he was alert and answering questions.

Testimony in the trial is expected to conclude today.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: or 419-213-2134.