ESCANABA - Did the truck driver who ran a red light and collided into traffic cause the deaths of an Escanaba couple at a Gladstone intersection on March 20, 2013?
Twelve jurors are considering this question today as they deliberate whether Harley Davidson Durocher is guilty or not guilty of six felonies.
Durocher, 25, of Little Lake, was arrested last May in connection with the three-vehicle accident at the intersection of U.S. 2 & 41/M-35 at South Hill Road 13 months ago.
After attempting to stop for a red light, the northbound logging truck Durocher was driving struck a westbound vehicle driven by Tom Swift of Escanaba. Tom died at the scene; his wife, Barbara, died from her injuries four days later. They were each 73 years old.
Durocher was charged with six 15- year felonies in connection with their deaths. Prior to the jury beginning deliberation Thursday afternoon, eight additional counts were added to the verdict list, each a misdemeanor.
Durocher is charged with the following felonies (relating to each victim): two counts of reckless driving causing death; two counts of operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license causing death; and two counts of operating a motor vehicle with the presence of a controlled substance (marijuana) causing death.
In lieu of the felonies above, the jury has the option to rule on two counts on each of the following; committing a moving traffic violation causing death or the charge of reckless driving; operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license; and operating a motor vehicle with the presence of a controlled substance (marijuana).
Twenty witnesses testified during the four-day trial which began Monday. Durocher took the stand Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday concluded with closing arguments from County Prosecutor Steve Parks and Defense Attorney Jim Howarth. Jury deliberation followed and resumed today.
During closing statements, Parks said the court case has focused on the defendant and his conduct. He asked the jury when considering the evidence to "be mindful of the victims" who are not there to be a part of the court process.
Parks said the crash was not "just an accident" without any accountability. He also said the crash was not the fault of others who owned the truck or did a routine check on the vehicle. The traffic light was not to be blamed as well, he said.
Parks said evidence shows that, as the operator, Durocher was responsible. In addition, he was driving the semi on a suspended license and tests proved he had THC (the chemical compound in marijuana) in his blood.
Also, Durocher was possibly distracted by use of his cell phone or trying to beat the red light, said Parks, adding the driver was also aware of the truck's brake conditions while driving too fast that night.
"He had time to stop even with the lousy brakes he had," the prosecutor commented. "He had time to stop and he didn't and he caused the deaths of two people."
Parks told the jury that Durocher drove the vehicle recklessly in disregard for the safety of others.
"He knew that the brakes were bad because he drove it. He was driving too fast for the capabilities of that truck. He made the decision to drive this truck in its condition. And he was behind the wheel when it went through the intersection and killed Mr. and Mrs. Swift."
Parks told the jury that Durocher, as the truck driver, "caused" the deaths of the couple. The defendant's operation of the vehicle was "a" cause of death or resulted in death or serious injury, as the law requires as a fact for a conviction, the prosecutor explained.
Defense Attorney Howarth told jurors that the cause of the fatal accident has been disputed in this case. He said it is "serious business" to be accused and convicted of a crime.
"What did Harley Durocher do himself that was wrong - his criminal wrongdoing?" the attorney questioned during his closing remarks.
Howarth said good common sense shows his client did not cause the deaths even though he may have made some mistakes.
"Mistakes were made in this case by a lot of people," he said.
"Harley Durocher took the stand and told you what happened - the good, the bad and the ugly," Howarth told the jurors.
Citing witness testimony, Howarth said the driver did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs after the accident at the intersection, described as one of the most dangerous crossroads in the area. Durocher admitted to having used marijuana in the past and said he was not texting while driving, his lawyer added.
In Parks' rebuttal, he said witnesses testified Durocher sounded his air-horn to alert motorists because he knew he wasn't going to stop in time. Skid marks showed the driver braked too late, he added.
"What he did was criminal and two people paid for that with their lives," Parks told the jury.
A third motorist, Joyce Scheriff, 72, of Gladstone, was also injured in the crash. No criminal charges were sought in relation to her injuries.
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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, email@example.com