GALLIPOLIS — A Crown City man pleaded guilty to the second-degree felony of vehicular homicide Thursday in the Gallia Court of Common Pleas, a crime which resulted in the death of Robert Baxter, 66, of Gallipolis.
According to Gallia Prosecutor Jason Holdren, Matthew Preston, 38, faces potentially two to eight years, in increments of a year, in a state facility as per sentencing guidelines with the Ohio Revised Code and up to a lifetime suspension of a driver’s license in Gallia Common Pleas.
Preston is slated to be sentenced Jan. 28 at 9:30 a.m. in the Gallia Court of Common Pleas. The prosecutor said the state would be asking for the maximum sentence. The family of the victim has the option of potentially speaking at the proceeding, should they choose.
Preston also was previously charged with two first-degree misdemeanor OVI counts and one second-degree misdemeanor possession of a drug abuse instrument as well as a minor misdemeanor for marijuana paraphernalia. He pleaded guilty Thursday to one OVI charge and one for possession of a drug abuse instrument in the Gallipolis Municipal Court. The other charges were dismissed.
The convicted was sentenced to a mandatory fine of $375, a mandatory one-year license suspension, a maximum of 180 days in jail and credited with 156 already served because Preston never posted bond. His sentence will run concurrent with what was declared in Gallia Common Pleas as per the Ohio Revised Code. For the drug abuse instrument charge, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail, which he was credited with 90, having already served them.
Holdren asked that Gallipolis Municipal Judge Eric Mulford consider at $2 million bond with a 10 percent surety in August 2018 because of reports that Preston had encountered law enforcement three times within 48 hours of Baxter’s death. According to complaint records and law enforcement interviews, each of those encounters reported that Preston had been potentially impaired and operating a vehicle with the last resulting in a collision and the death of Baxter. Mulford agreed and set the requested bond amount.
Gallipolis Municipal complaint records say that Preston “was traveling westbound on State Route 588 in the area of milepost 6 (Aug. 15, 2018, afternoon of Gallia County). At this location, Preston struck Robert Baxter (Jr.) as Baxter was traveling on a motorcycle eastbound on State Route 588. At the time of the collision, Preston was traveling in the eastbound lane of State Route 588 while attempting to pass a truck on a double yellow line…Due to the impact of the collision, Robert Baxter suffered fatal injuries. (Troopers) were on scene and while conversing with Preston observed signs of obvious impairment. At the request of (the trooper), Preston performed standard field sobriety testing and was determined to be impaired. (Troopers) arrested Preston for OVI.”
Preston had previous encounters with law enforcement Tuesday, August 14, 2018. One encounter was reported to occur at a Rio Grande business where he was discovered unresponsive with keys in the ignition of a running vehicle. The second was reported at a business on Jackson Pike with Preston at approximately 11:30 p.m., the same Tuesday evening. He was arrested for OVI, after going through a field sobriety test, taken back to the Ohio State Highway Patrol post and processed for the reported incident. Preston was released into the care of an individual who had the situation explained to him, that Preston was still impaired, and who signed a release form to take Preston into their custody and care. Preston was released around 1:30 a.m. in the morning, August 15, 2018. The fatality which resulted in Baxter’s death happened around 12:37 p.m., that afternoon.
“I think that when we look at this kind of a case, unfortunately, with the numbers we see with drug use, the environment is ripe for more situations like this,” said Holdren of rising drug impaired driving incidents, “which is a tremendous concern for me. As the prosecutor, on a number of occasions I have had the opportunity to address (State Representative) Ryan Smith to discuss legislation to enhance these penalties. This is truly a tragic situation.”
Preston reportedly had traces of metabolized methamphetamine and heroin in his system after Baxter’s death.
In closer examination of the specific criminal complaints filed against Preston regarding the mid-August 2018 events leading up to the crash that resulted in Baxter’s death, the Rio Grande incident complaint stated, “(Responding law enforcement officer) was dispatched to an unresponsive male at (gas station in Rio Grande area). Upon arrival, five doses of 4 mg Naloxone was administered to Matthew S. Preston. Matthew was behind the driver seat of the vehicle with the keys in the ignition and the engine running. Matthew was removed from the vehicle and was revived. Upon searching the general area where Matthew was sitting, an uncapped needle was located under the driver seat. Matthew informed EMS that he used heroin. Matthew was transported to Holzer Medical Center for treatment. Please issue warrant.”
“Ours was a call of an overdose,” said Rio Grande Police Chief Josh Davies previously in August 2018 of Preston’s first encounter with law enforcement over the 48 hour period before Baxter’s death. “He was unresponsive. We were able to get him responsive and he was transported by squad to the hospital. We did our criminal charges and he had to be treated so there was nothing else we could do because he had to be treated by the hospital. Afterwards, I conversed with the (then Gallipolis City Solicitor Adam Salisbury) regarding charges and he recommended we charge him (Preston) with OVI because he was behind the wheel of the vehicle with the keys in the ignition, the engine running and he was unresponsive.”
Preston was at the hospital before Rio officers conversed with the solicitor about an OVI charge, said Davies.
“There’s ways (charges can be filed),” said Davies. “Obviously, (Preston was out of Rio Grande jurisdiction at the time he was taken to Holzer Medical Center). Usually, a summons or criminal complaint will be filed (with the courts), which is just what we did. We filed a complaint against (Preston). At that time, once he’s taken by the hospital, we don’t know the extent of what’s going to happen…We have to see what happens (whether an individual survives an overdose). It’s kind of a case by case basis on what the situation is. In an overdose, you may have no charges on him whatsoever.”
In an attempt to follow procedure, Davies said Rio Grande police went to converse with the solicitor for legal counsel to make certain what was the best course of action to take next. The warrant, as previously illustrated in the complaint from Rio Grande police, was not issued until after the conversation with the solicitor.
According to an earlier conversation the same August with Ohio State Highway Patrol Commander Barry Call, troopers had another incident at a gas station on Jackson Pike with Preston at approximately 11:30 p.m., the same Tuesday evening. He was arrested for OVI, after going through a field sobriety test, taken back to the post and processed for the reported incident. Preston was released into the care of an individual who had the situation explained to him, that Preston was still impaired, and who signed a release form to take Preston into his custody and care. Preston was released around 1:30 a.m. in the morning, Wednesday. The fatality which resulted in Baxter’s death happened around 12:37 p.m., that afternoon.
“One of (law enforcement) processes is allowing an impaired driver to get a ride (when released),” said Call.
OVI charges in Ohio are typically considered misdemeanors. An OVI charge becomes a felony when a suspect has three or more previous OVI convictions within a period of 10 years, according to 4511.19 of the Ohio Revised Code. According to Gallipolis Municipal Court online records, Preston had no previous OVI charges. Court reports say he had previous encounters with law enforcement over the last decade for various issues.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.