Thursday, October 19, 2017 Elyria 66°
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Judge acquits driver in fatal crash

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    Michael McFarland sits in court Thursday before a county judge cleared him of charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and texting while driving.

    BRAD DICKEN / CHRONICLE

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ELYRIA — A county judge on Thursday acquitted Michael McFarland of aggravated vehicular homicide and driving while texting charges, a decision that sparked anger from the family of Hubert Vaughn, the man killed in the 2015 crash prosecutors said McFarland caused.

Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi expressed condolences to Vaughn’s family after reading his decision before addressing McFarland directly.

“Not guilty does not mean innocent,” he said. “On Aug. 21, 2015, your carelessness while operating your motor vehicle caused the death of Mr. Vaughn, it is just this court’s opinion that the state failed to prove your conduct violated any of the criminal statutes that you were charged with.”

Vaughn’s son, Anthony Vaughn, stormed out of the courtroom and members of Vaughn’s family later cursed at McFarland after the hearing ended.

Later they stood outside of the Lorain County Justice Center as McFarland, who declined comment, waited inside for them to leave. County sheriff’s deputies eventually went outside to ask the angry family members to depart.

At one point the family hurled insults at McFarland’s defense attorney, Michael Doyle, as he left the courthouse.

Vaughn’s daughter, Brittany Perry, said there was “no justice” for her family. If nothing else, she said, McFarland should have lost his driver’s license over the crash. She said her 48-year-old father had been doing nothing but driving home when McFarland’s 2000 Dodge Ram 1500 slammed into Hubert Vaughn’s 2001 Ford Focus.

“He was an amazing grandfather and an amazing father,” Perry said, adding that without a criminal conviction her family will never really achieve closure.

“It’s not fair,” she said. “It’s not right.”

Throughout the trial, Assistant County Prosecutor Peter Gauthier argued that McFarland, 45, was reckless when he was driving the day of crash, texting with an ex-girlfriend and family members when he should have been paying attention to the road. He also criticized McFarland for driving even though he said he sometimes experiences brief blackouts.

But McFarland testified that he had been using a talk-and-text feature on his cell phone when he was driving that day, something Miraldi said is an exception to the law against texting while driving.

Prosecutors, the judge said, failed to prove that McFarland was manually typing and reading text messages. He also noted that the phone McFarland was using that day was never seized by investigators.

The Ohio Highway Patrol determined that McFarland’s westbound pickup first struck a 2008 Jeep Compass driven by Tami Ford on U.S. Route 20 before the pickup veered into the eastbound lane and collided with Vaughn’s car.

Miraldi said the skid marks showed that McFarland was aware of the possibility of a car crash because he hit his brakes before the crash happened, although it wasn’t fast enough to stop what happened next.

“The skid marks are evidence that the defendant was awake and perceived a danger and reacted to it, but not in a timely manner,” the judge said.

Miraldi said there was no medical evidence to support that McFarland suffered from blackouts that would have prevented him from driving.

McFarland said during the trial that he had only a limited recollection of the crash. He testified that he remembered reaching down for a bottle of ice tea that he dropped and then waking up inside his wrecked vehicle.

Perry said people need to be aware of just how dangerous it is to text while driving.

“It’s normal and it shouldn’t be normal,” she said. “It should be talked about just like drinking and driving.”

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.



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