Trial Expected to Continue through the Week
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is coverage of the first day of a jury trial. The suspect is considered innocent until proved guilty in a court of law. The is a vehicular homicide case in which one of the occupants of the car died. There may be testimony, quotes, references or other information related to the fatality that may be distressing to some readers. Additionally, there may be some language used that is imperative to the accurate telling of this case that may be offensive to some readers.)
POMEROY, Ohio – A man charged with vehicular homicide is on trial in the Meigs County Court of Common Pleas.
Richard Barnhart Jr., 31, of Pomeroy is on trial for an incident on Jan. 13, 2017 in which a black 1998 Audi sedan with Barnhart and Jesse T. Carr, 26, also of Pomeroy, were traveling on State Route 143 when the vehicle crashed. Neither were wearing seat belts. Carr died at the scene. Barnhart had incapacitating injuries and was transported to the Holzer Meigs Emergency Room. Barnhart was transported to Columbus, Ohio. According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Barnhart was driving the sedan when it flipped and crashed pinning Carr under the vehicle. The prosecution contends Barnhart was the driver. Barnhart had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .269 according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The legal limit in Ohio is .08 BAC. Barnhart is charged with five counts: one count of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, a felony of the first degree; one count of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, a felony of the second degree; Vehicular Manslaughter, a first degree misdemeanor; and two counts of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence, a felony of the fourth degree.
Barnhart appeared with his attorney, Charles Knight, before Judge I. Carson Crow on Jan. 30, 2018 as the trial began. Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney James Stanley and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Adkins represented the state. The jury selection concluded at 11:27 a.m. with opening statements following a break for lunch.
Adkins delivered the opening statement for the prosecution. The assistant prosecutor outlined the history Barnhart has of driving under the influence. Adkins told jurors that Barnhart has four previous convictions for DUI in several counties and was under driver’s license suspension at the time of the crash. Adkins said the state would show with witness testimony that Barnhart was responsible for the crash. Adkins outlined the law enforcement investigating the crash and that Barnhart was found at the scene of the crash hanging out the windshield over the steering wheel of the vehicle. Adkins also said the state would bring multiple witnesses to state they saw beer cans in the car as well.
Knight stated in his opening statement that Carr had been a life long friend of his client. He also laid the groundwork for an argument that Barnhart was not behind the wheel when the car crashed. Knight maintained there were various avenues for the investigation that law enforcement did not pursue including another vehicle.
The first witness for the prosecution was Ronald Haning, Jr. Just prior to the crash on Jan. 13, Haning was at his residence on State Route 143 that night checking for a possible roof leak. The weather was a rainy and there was a slight fog according to Haning’s testimony. He said he could clearly see the road from his home, however. Haning said he heard a vehicle headed from the State Route 7 end of State Route 143 to the Harrisonville end. He then heard another vehicle coming down the road in the opposite direction. Haning gave a statement to law enforcement that night several hours after the crash. A couple of days later he gave another statement recalling he could hear clicking as if the other vehicle hitting reflectors. According to his testimony it appeared the two vehicles passed one another and one of the vehicles over corrected and subsequently crashed into a telephone pole. Haning said he tried to check on the occupants of the crashed vehicle but was told his neighbor whose property Barnhart and Carr had crashed on had already contacted 911.
On cross examination, Knight asked Haning about the other vehicle. Haning said the other vehicle did not stop and turned on Zion Road.
On redirect, Adkins asked Haning if the two vehicles had collided to which Haning said they did not.
Luke Osborne, Sr., was the next defendant. It was his property the car came to rest on. Osborne testified he was in his living room with his wife when they heard the crash. He immediately went to the door grabbing a spotlight and going out to the crash scene. He had his wife call 911 and looked over the wreckage. Osborne said Barnhart was leaning over the steering wheel, leaning toward the left side of the vehicle. Osborne said he heard Barnhart say to a first responder, “I f***** up, didn’t I.”
During cross examination by Knight, Osborne explained his home is about 40-50 feet from the car and the car was about 20 feet from the roadway. While Osborne was there throughout the time first responders and OSP Troopers were investigating the scene, Osborne was not asked to make a statement until Sept. 8, 2017.
Dr. Daniel Whitely, coroner for Meigs and Gallia Counties testified next. He was on the scene Jan. 13, 2017 and examined Carr. His findings were that Carr died of blunt force trauma due to the motor vehicle crash. He was questioned about the timing of Carr’s death following the crash. Dr. Whitely said there was very little blood at the scene which would mean Carr died quickly. Death occurred in seconds according to the death certificate.
Following Dr. Whitely on the witness stand was Nicholas Baldaff, a criminalist from the Ohio State Highway Patrol Lab in Columbus, Ohio. He testified to the procedures for testing blood samples, and confirmed the finding of Barnhart’s BAC of .269 and that the sample was tested twice to be positive of the results. Knight asked on cross examination if Baldaff tested any DNA from Carr. Baldaff said the testing vials are labeled by number, that he would not necessarily know the name of the subject being tested.
Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Robert L. Hazelett III was next for the prosecution. Sgt. Hazelett testified he just started his shift that night when the call came from dispatch about the State Route 143 wreck and that it was a fatality. Upon arrival, Sgt. Hazelett looked over the whole scene and began talking with first responders. He testified that the car was bent in U shape, and that was due to striking a telephone pole. According to Sgt. Hazelett, the car sustained “heavy damage” on the passenger side.
Photos were shown in the court of the vehicle at the scene and it was barely recognizable as a vehicle. The driver’s side, however, was mainly intact with the glass in the door windows unbroken. Sgt. Hazelett said he completed a sketch of the scene, and followed the usual protocol for processing a crash scene. He also stated he saw Bud Light cans in the car and outside the car. He also saw a Bud Light box outside among the wreckage as well. Sgt. Hazelett said he contacted the coroner, the OSP investigative and reconstruction units along with the funeral home. The body was taken by the funeral home.
On cross examination, Knight questioned if the air bag had been seized for evidence. The Sargent said it was not. Knight also questioned if Carr was impaired as well. Sgt. Hazelett said it was unnecessary as Carr was found under the vehicle deceased.
Trooper Marvin Pullins testified for the state that he was at the scene to reconstruct and investigate the crash. Trained in the physics and technicalities of reconstructing crashes, Trooper Pullins said he made a to scale sketch of the crash. He noted that he observed no marks on the road of breaking, but there was a black mark along a length of guardrail. Trooper Pullins said the vehicle hit the guardrail and was basically locked into it until striking the telephone pole. Pullins said the car struck the pole, as he found wood from the pole in what had been the roof of the vehicle. The pole had been broken about three feet off the ground. In the process of the crash, the vehicle had at one point, stood on end with the pole going across the top of the car.
The trial recessed for the day at 3:47 p.m. The trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. Jan. 31. Judge Crow admonished the jury not to read about, discuss or talk about the case.