POMEROY — The jury trial of a Pomeroy man accused of being the driver in an automobile crash which took the life of another man began on Tuesday in Meigs County Common Pleas Court.
Richard Barnhart Jr., 32, was indicted nearly a year ago on five felony charges in relation to the crash which killed Jesse T. Carr, 26. Barnhart is charged with two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, one count of vehicular manslaughter and two counts of operating a vehicle under the influence.
Prosecutor James K. Stanley and Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Adkins are representing the state in the case, while Charles Knight is representing Barnhart.
After a morning of jury selection, the state presented a series of witnesses on Tuesday afternoon recounting the night of Jan. 13, 2017, when the crash occurred, as well as the investigation which followed.
In opening statements, Adkins told the 12 jurors — four women and eight men — and one alternate of the charges the state intends to prove, as well as the witnesses anticipated to be called to take the stand and the exhibits to be presented.
In his opening statement, Knight laid out some of the facts of the case which are not in dispute, including that Carr died in the crash which occurred on the night of Jan. 13, 2017 in the Horner Hill area of State Route 143.
Knight said it was the responsibility of the state to prove the offenses against Barnhart, including the cause of the accident, as well as the defense claim that Barnhart was driving.
Adkins and Knight both spoke of an eye witness to the crash who was the first witness called to the stand.
Ronald Haning Jr. was the first witness to take the stand. Haning lives in the area of the crash and, although it occurred at approximately 10:10 p.m., was on his roof at the time of the crash. Haning told the jury that he was working on an area of the roof over the baby room recently added on as their was concern about a leak on the rainy evening.
In his original statement to the Ohio State Highway Patrol a few hours after the crash, Haning wrote that he noticed a sedan coming from Route 7 toward Harrisonville on Route 143, with another vehicle coming down Horner Hill toward the first. He stated that he could see in the headlights that the vehicle coming down the hill was left of center, with the sedan (allegedly driven by Barnhart) going off the road to avoid hitting the SUV coming down the hill. The SUV then proceeded on, taking a right onto Zion Road.
In a second statement two days after the crash, Haning said that he heard the SUV hitting the reflectors in the center of the road, but felt that the two vehicles could have safely passed without hitting one another. He stated that he felt the crash was a result of an overreaction by the driver of the sedan.
Haning, under questioning from Knight, stated that he believed the statement given hours after the crash was what he believed at the time, but after having more time to process the event gave the second statement with the other details and description.
Following the testimony by Haning, Luke Osborne Jr. took the stand. It was the property of Osborne where the crash ended. Osborne indicated that at the time of the crash he and his wife were in their living room watching television. Hearing the crash outside, Osborne grabbed his spot light and walked to the front porch. He saw the car across the ditch near his residence, and having his wife call 911, proceeded to the scene.
Osborne said he initially thought the defendant was dead as he was laying across the windshield bleeding. Osborne said Barnhart was leaning over the steering wheel toward the left. Walking to the other side of the vehicle, Osborne could see the legs and feet of Carr sticking out from under the vehicle. It was around the time first responders began to arrive at the scene that Osborne said the defendant began to move around.
Osborne stated he heard Barnhart tell one of the first responders “I f***** up didn’t I.” After the emergency personnel arrived on scene Osborne said he backed away from the scene. When questioned by Knight, Osborne said he was not asked to give a statement to officials on the night of the crash, giving a statement when asked in September 2017.
Sgt. Robert L. Hazelett III of the Gallia Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol was the first from the Post to arrive on the crash scene. Hazelett recalled the vehicle having heavy damage being bent into a “U” shape with the roof missing. The telephone pole which the vehicle struck was broken from the impact.
While on the scene that night, Hazelett took several photos of the crash and conducted a field sketch, while sending another trooper to the emergency room where Barnhart had been taken. Beer cans were observed in the vehicle, as well as a Bud Light box near the vehicle, leading to a suspicion of Barnhart being under the influence.
Looking at the photos taken at the scene, Hazelett was asked to describe what could be seen in each one. A photo of the driver seat and surrounding area showed a beer can, along with one shoe. Knight showed Hazelett another photo, this one of the body of Carr under the vehicle, pointing out that a matching shoe to the one in the driver seat was in the picture with Carr’s body.
Knight also asked Hazelett if the air bag from the vehicle, which reportedly had blood on it, was seized as evidence. Hazelett indicated that it was not.
The defense attorney also asked why a blood test was performed on Barnhart for blood alcohol, but a test was not conducted on the body of Carr. Hazelett indicated that as the passenger in the vehicle troopers did not need to know if Carr was impaired.
Trooper Marvin Pullins was the last to take the stand on Tuesday. Pullins, who is trained as a reconstructionist with the Post but has never testified as one, was called to the scene the day following the crash to examine the scene during the daylight hours.
Pullins testified about the markings on the guardrail being consistent with a car striking the guardrail, with the vehicle then going into a yard off the side of the road and striking the pole. There were no skid marks or tire marks on the roadway in the crash area.
Pullins noted the significant damage to the passenger side of the vehicle, with the initial impact with the pole taking place on the right front of the vehicle.
Also testifying on Tuesday was Dr. Dan Whitely, Meigs County Coroner, who was called to the scene and labeled Carr’s cause of death as multiple blunt force injury from an auto accident.
Nicholas Baldaff of the Ohio State Highway Crime Lab testified to the results of the blood alcohol test conducted on Barnhart following the crash. Baldaff testified that Barnhart’s level was .269, while the legal limit is .08.
The trial is set to continue on Wednesday with additional witnesses taking the stand. The Daily Sentinel will provide continuing coverage of the case in upcoming print editions and online at mydailysentinel.com.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.