MONROE In one of the most high-profile road-rage cases in the area, former Bedford school board member Randy Krell yesterday was found guilty of negligent homicide for his role in the crash last June that caused the death of a Toledo teenager.
According to witness testimony, Krell, 52, chased a car filled with teenagers through Bedford Township the night of June 15, 2006, after one of them threw a bottle of water at his car.
The driver, Austin Oberle, then 17, went through an intersection and hit a tree, killing Charlie Fackelman, 17, of Toledo, and severely injuring Stevie Beale, now 18, of Bedford.
Oberle pleaded guilty Monday to two felonies resulting from his role in the crash.
Sentencing for Krell and Oberle has been set for Aug. 16. They both face up to two years in prison.
This case involved a tragic chain of bad decisions that resulted in the death of one young adult and the paralyzation of another, Prosecutor William Paul Nichols said. The jury verdict cannot repair the damage done to the Fackelman family or Stevie Beale and her family, but it does bring some closure to the criminal case.
Krell was tried in Monroe County Circuit Court on felony charges of vehicular manslaughter for Mr. Fackelman s death and felonious driving for Miss Beale s injuries.
After 3 hours of deliberation, the jury yesterday afternoon announced Krell was guilty, but reduced his charges from those levied by the prosecutor s office.
Many of the teenagers who were in the car that Krell chased that night, and their family members, cried after the verdict. Many of them had hoped for a harsher sentence.
I know it s not the result you wanted, Mr. Nichols told one Beale family member.
Stevie Beale, who is in a wheelchair, agreed.
It s been a long year, and this is clearly not what we wanted, she said. Everybody has been going through so much, it just doesn t feel right to end things like this.
Charles V. Fackelman, the father of the boy who died, said his family did receive some solace.
I think my family received some justice, but the Beale family received a slap in the face today, Mr. Fackelman said.
He was referring to the fact that the felonious driving charge, which the jury dropped, was the charge that related to Miss Beale s injuries.
I am happy with the jury for finding him guilty but I was caught off-guard when the jury said that Krell wasn t the cause of Stevie s paralysis, Miss Beale s father, Alfie Beale, said.
We ve got a 17-year-old boy that s dead, dead, and he doesn t get a chance to live his life. And we ve got a 51-year-old who should have known better. And we have Stevie, who has to go through life in a wheelchair, he said.
Under Michigan criminal law, manslaughter charges can be reduced, but charges stemming from serious, not fatal, injuries must be based on gross negligence, Prosecutor Nichols said.
Gross negligence is more than carelessness. It is willfully disregarding the results to others, Chief Circuit Court Judge Michael W. LaBeau yesterday told the jury before it deliberated.
Ordinary negligence is not taking reasonable care under the circumstances at the time, like if a defendant did not do what a sensible person would have done under ordinary circumstances, the judge said.
Because the jury found Krell negligent, but not grossly negligent, it reduced the manslaughter charge and dropped the felonious driving charge.
According to the testimony of the teenagers in the car, the five Whitmer high school students were driving from Toledo to Bedford to drop the two girls off at home before their midnight curfew.
Charlie Fackelman and his friend Carl Ziegler began throwing bottles out of Oberle s Pontiac Bonneville while they were on Sterns Road.
Mr. Ziegler, then 17, of Toledo, threw the first missile as Krell s attorney, William Godfroy, repeatedly called them throughout the trial. A Gatorade bottle hit a white sport utility vehicle.
Charlie mimicked his varsity baseball teammate, throwing a water bottle that hit Krell s Chrysler 300M.
Krell quickly turned in pursuit.
The teenagers said they became frightened, and Oberle testified that he heard his teammates and friends tell him to speed up.
Several of the teens testified this week that they worried whoever was tailing them might have a gun.
According to investigators, Krell followed the car as it turned north onto Monroe Road and then west onto Clegg Road.
One of the teens testified that Oberle slowed and then ran through the stop sign at Adler Road, followed closely by Krell, who also ran through the stop sign.
Police estimated that Oberle and Krell reached speeds of 85 mph.
As Oberle came to a dead end, at Whiteford Center Road, he attempted to brake, but ran off the road and hit a tree.
Another witness, a Clegg Road resident, said she saw the two vehicles speeding down Clegg, and then drove to the accident scene where she saw Krell standing outside his vehicle.
Krell, who pleaded not guilty, declined to comment after the jury s verdict and left the court quickly with his wife and three children.
In his testimony Wednesday, Krell admitted that his car was hit by an object although he said it was a Coors Light beer can but he did not admit to chasing the teens.
He said he was neither angry nor upset after the object hit his car.
Is that reasonable? You are hit by a bottle at 11 p.m. at night and you are not angry? Prosecutor Nichols asked during his closing remarks, questioning the veracity of Krell s testimony.
Krell said he saw out of his side-view mirror that the tail lights on the car from which the bottle was thrown were similar to those on a car owned by one of his neighbor s daughters.
So, he testified, he drove by his neighbor s house on Hazel Drive in Lambertville, but the neighbor was not home.
Krell said because his night had already been sidetracked, he decided to forgo a trip to Taco Bell to buy his wife a taco salad and instead chose to drive down Clegg Road.
My dog likes riding with the window down, so I decided to let the dog stick her head out the window and give her a ride around the block, Krell told the jury.
Mr. Nichols questioned that version of events.
It is not believable. It doesn t make sense. It borders on being ridiculous, Mr. Nichols said. He didn t stop his car. He didn t check for damage to his vehicle. Instead he decides, Well, I might as well take my dog on a ride around the block.
And all of a sudden he decides not to go to Taco Bell after all, despite the fact that his wife is at home waiting for a taco salad?
Krell, a three-term Bedford school board member, said that while driving around the block, he saw Oberle s car, which was smashed against a tree.
He said that explains why witnesses saw him at the scene of the accident.
Krell s attorney told the jury the burden of proof was on the prosecutor and that jury members should not let their emotions get involved.
I know it is hard. It tears at your guts. You feel sorry for Stevie, you feel sorry for Charlie, but those are emotions, and you can t let emotions get involved, Mr. Godfroy said.
Mr. Godfroy also managed to throw into question almost all the other witnesses testimony by discussing the conflicts of friendship, noting the boys in the car were best friends and one of the girls, Ashley Roth, is dating Oberle.
If your friend is in trouble you try to minimize his involvement and point the blame on somebody else, he said. It is only human nature, it is only natural.
Mr. Nichols said Mr. Godfroy was simply trying to distract the jury from its job.
Judge LaBeau gave the jury some legal advice before their deliberation.
You must look at each of the facts the witnesses gave and decide which you believe, the judge said.
It is your job to decide what the facts in the case are.
Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6168.