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Published: Tuesday, 10/28/2008

Testimony begins in truck firm slayings

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Neyland Neyland
AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge

BOWLING GREEN - Douglas Smith knew that firing Calvin Neyland, Jr., an independent contractor who drove a truck for Liberty Transportation, wasn't going to be easy.

His fianc, Cindy Collins, told a jury in Wood County Common Pleas Court yesterday Mr. Smith "knew it was going to be a problem, but he never expected it to be as bad as it was. Nothing with Calvin was ever easy."

Mr. Neyland, 44, who has no permanent address, is standing trial on two counts of aggravated murder for the Aug. 8, 2007, shooting deaths of Mr. Smith, 44, of Sylvania Township, and Thomas Lazar, 58, of Belle Vernon, Pa. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Ms. Collins, the first to take the stand, said she and Mr. Smith had been together four years, while she had met Mr. Lazar, a retired Pennsylvania state trooper just a few days before both men were killed. The three had dinner together in Perrysburg the night before Mr. Neyland was to be fired, and Ms. Collins remembers Mr. Lazar asking, "What am I getting myself into?"

It was Mr. Smith who hired Mr. Neyland about a year earlier, Ms. Collins said, explaining that her fianc frequently talked about his employees and what went on at work. She said he and Mr. Neyland got along well initially.

"Doug said Calvin was changing. His paperwork had always been perfect, but things started getting really bad after probably six or eight months," she said. "His attitude was changing. He was getting complaints from customers. It even got to the point where they didn't want Calvin to come back."

After a traffic accident in Indianapolis for which Mr. Neyland was found to be at fault, Liberty officials decided to terminate his employment. Ms. Collins said her fianc phoned her frequently that day telling her Mr. Neyland had repeatedly delayed their meeting until finally it was set for 3 p.m.

"He was very nervous all day and as things progressed he got worse," she said. "He knew this wasn't going to be good. He knew it right from the start."

While she had never met Mr. Neyland, two men who worked for Great Lakes Window testified that they'd seen Mr. Neyland around Liberty, which was next door, and saw him the afternoon of Aug. 8 after hearing gunshots.

"We heard about four to six gunshots then saw Mr. Neyland walk across over to his truck and open the door to his truck and then he walked back to the annex and went in the garage door and upstairs and there were some more shots and then he came back out," said David Blakemore.

He and co-worker Chad White testified that at one point, Mr. Neyland began walking toward them, holding a gun.

"When he started walking toward us, we started backpedaling," Mr. White said.

The jury heard a recording of the 911 call Mr. White made about the same time, and, during opening arguments, listened to the 911 call Mr. Smith placed shortly before he was shot in his second-floor office. At one point in the tape, he could be heard saying "help" three times.

Heather Baker, an assistant Wood County prosecutor, told the jury that evidence would show Mr. Neyland was arrested a few hours later at the Silver Blue Motel in Erie Township, Mich., where investigators found the alleged murder weapon - a 9mm Ruger handgun - in the truck he'd driven away from Liberty. She said they also found a hand-written last will and testament.

Defense attorney Scott Hicks asked the jury to listen carefully to what is said over the coming days.

"I'm asking you to do two things," Mr. Hicks told the jury. "I'm asking you to pay close attention to the evidence and then the second half of that task is being very careful in applying the law to that evidence."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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