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Three DUI-related charges were dropped against a 39-year-old man convicted of manslaughter Tuesday during the second day of a trial addressing a 2011 car crash that killed a 14-year-old boy.
Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court Judge Michael McGinty sided with the defense and said although Gary Jerome Turner had a small amount of THC — the active chemical in marijuana — in his system at the time of the crash, it was impossible to say whether the drug affected his ability to drive.
As a result, three DUI-related charges of maiming while under the influence of drugs, reckless involuntary manslaughter while under the influence of drugs and driving while under the influence of drugs were dropped Tuesday.
Turner was found guilty of felony involuntary manslaughter, felony child abuse, felony child neglect and misdemeanor reckless driving after 24 witnesses testified, providing details of the crash itself, the aftermath of the crash, and expert information regarding the mechanics of the car and the possible effects of marijuana.
Witnesses testified Monday and Tuesday that Turner was driving a 1997 Ford minivan down John Tyler Highway heading toward Charles City County on Aug. 8, 2011 with five people — a 3-month old girl, a 3-year-old girl, a 17-year-old boy, an 18-year-old woman, a 31-year-old woman and 14-year-old Brashawnta Brooks.
A few hundred feet before reaching the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Bridge, Turner took a sharp turn to the right, skidding on the road 168 feet before swerving towards the left side of the road. He then overcorrected and the van spun right again, slamming into an oncoming dump truck before flipping and hitting a telephone pole on the right side of the road.
The crash injured all of the van’s occupants, including Turner’s then 31-year-old girlfriend, who flew through the windshield, and a 3-month-old girl, who suffered a serious head injury and a broken femur.
Brooks, who was sitting on the rear passenger side, was found partially ejected from the van and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Turner told a James City County Police officer he was the only one wearing a seat belt.
A forensic scientist testified Monday THC was found in Turner’s urine, but it was impossible to tell how much, if it all, the THC affected Turner.
Dr. Jeff Stanley, who treated Turner at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, said Monday that Turner’s urine sample also showed evidence of cocaine and marijuana.
McGinty heard from three defense witnesses who were with Turner the day of the crash and said Turner showed no signs of being high that day.
“It simply doesn’t rise to the level that can sustain a DUI conviction,” Turner’s attorney Pat Kelley said, adding speed was also not a factor in the crash.
“Basically, this was a traffic accident,” Kelley said.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cathy Black argued the adverse effects of marijuana — confusion, slow reaction time, an altered sense of time, distance and space and difficulty performing difficult tasks — was “readily apparent” in Turner’s driving.
She also pointed to the loose car seat that held the 3-month-old child incorrectly, the lack of proper seat belt restraints on the other passengers and the belief Turner had that the steering on the car was having problems.
“This is not someone who is in control of the vehicle,” she said, calling the accident a “recipe for disaster.”
“It was not simple a traffic accident, Judge,” she said.” It was an accident waiting to happen.”
Turner will be sentenced on the involuntary manslaughter charge, the two child abuse charges and the reckless driving charge at 9 a.m. July 8.