May 2012 Archives

John Edwards Acquitted on 1 Felony Count, Mistrial Declared on Remaining 5 Charges

952313_gavel.jpgThis afternoon, the jury in the campaign finance trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards indicated that it had reached a verdict. However, they returned to court with a unanimous verdict on count three, only one of the six felony charges against Edwards. Within the hour, the jury announced that it was deadlocked on the remaining charges, and the case was officially declared a mistrial.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles was understandably confused when the jurors revealed their position earlier today. "I was obviously under the impression you had reached a verdict on all six counts," Judge Eagles said in court, according to CBS News. She then instructed the jury to continue deliberating on the remaining counts without revealing the jury's decision on the third felony charge. The Hill's Blog Briefing Room reported that Edwards' defense team immediately lobbied for a mistrial, but Judge Eagles insisted the jury continue deliberating.

About 45 minutes later, the jury returned to court again and announced that it had acquitted Edwards on count three, which charged him with accepting and receiving illegal campaign contributions from heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. However, it was not able to reach a unanimous decision on the other five charges, prompting Judge Eagles to officially declare a mistrial.

Edwards had pleaded not guilty to the six felony charges against him, which included four counts of receiving illegal campaign contributions, one count of conspiracy, and one count of making false statements. The charges are connected to approximately $925,000 in payments he received from two campaign donors, Mellon and Fred Baron, which were allegedly used to hide his affair - and his child -with Rielle Hunter, who was a videographer for his 2008 presidential campaign.

The jury, comprised of eight men and four women, was tasked with deciding if Edwards "knowingly and willfully" violated campaign finance laws by using the funds to cover up his relationship with Hunter. The defense argued that Edwards had committed many "moral wrongs," but that his behavior was not illegal. His attorneys maintained the funds were not campaign contributions, but gifts given to help him hide the affair from his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, who was terminally ill with breast cancer. Elizabeth died in December 2010.

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Missouri Highway Patrol Reports Seven Auto Accident Fatalities Over Memorial Day Weekend

692135_us_flag_4.jpgSeven people were killed in Missouri auto accidents between 6:00 p.m. on Friday, May 25 and 11:59 p.m. on Monday, May 28, according to a recent news release from the Missouri Highway Patrol. Troopers reported a total of 232 accidents over the holiday weekend, which caused 95 injuries to the involved parties. In addition, 184 Missouri motorists were arrested for driving while intoxicated.

All seven fatal crashes were lane departure accidents, meaning they involved a vehicle leaving the appropriate lane of travel and either running off the road or crossing into the path of oncoming traffic.

Memorial Day Auto Fatalities in Missouri

Friday May, 25

• 16 year-old Rachelle Alling of Ozark died on Friday evening in a single vehicle crash in Christian County. At around 8:00 p.m., Alling's vehicle ran off the roadway and struck a culvert, which caused the car to overturn into a volunteer fire department's driveway. Alling was pronounced dead at the scene. She was wearing a seat belt.

Saturday, May 26

• On Saturday, another single vehicle wreck claimed the life of 23 year-old Ulyses Neal IV of Sikeston. Neal was a passenger in a vehicle that lost control and struck a tree. Neal was ejected from the vehicle and died as a result of his injuries. Two other occupants sustained serious injuries in the crash, while a third suffered minor injuries.

Sunday, May 27

Christopher Harrah, 26, of Rolla, was killed on Sunday in a Franklin County crash. Harrah was a passenger in a vehicle that failed to properly negotiate a curve in the roadway: it ran off the road, struck a driveway, became airborne, and eventually collided with a tree. Harrah was pronounced dead at the scene. He was not wearing a seat belt. A 5 year-old passenger suffered moderate injuries. The driver, 25 year-old Autumn Smith, was seriously injured: she has since been changed with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and driving while intoxicated, according to STL Today.

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New GHSA Report Reveals "No Progress" In Reducing Fatal Motorcycle Crashes

437798_xtz_yahama_-_beach_bertioga_5.jpgOn Tuesday morning, a motorcyclist was killed in a Camden County crash, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol. The accident happened on North Business Route 5 in Camdenton at around 7:45 a.m.: a westbound SUV, attempting to turn left into a parking lot, pulled into the path of an eastbound Harley Davidson. The Harley's driver, 45 year-old Robert D. Oertle, was pronounced dead at the scene. Oertle was wearing a helmet. The driver of the SUV, 49 year-old Nancy S. Menges, was not injured in the crash.

In recent weeks, the news has been full of serious motorcycle crashes like this one. Just a few days ago, two riders were killed - and four more were injured - in a six vehicle wreck here in Springfield. Three of the vehicles involved were motorcycles. And this morning, another motorcyclist was injured in a collision with an SUV near Kansas City's riverfront.

Certainly, the prevalence of fatal motorcycle accidents is a serious issue here in Missouri and nationwide. What's more, a new report released Tuesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that there has been no progress in reducing motorcycle crash fatalities, even as auto accident deaths have declined overall.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has projected that U.S. traffic deaths dropped by 1.7% last year, taking the fatality rate to its lowest level since 1949. In contrast, GHSA's report shows that motorcycle fatalities remained at the same level (about 4,500 deaths) in 2010 and 2011.

Nationwide, 2011 motorcyclist deaths increased in 26 states and the District of Columbia: notably, South Carolina's fatality rate jumped 26%, and Texas saw an increase of 16%. The report speculates that the economy may partially account for these increases, since "higher gasoline prices may encourage riders to substitute fuel-efficient motorcycles for automobiles in trips to and from work and other everyday travel." Hence, there are simply more motorcycles on the road.

Meanwhile, 23 states - including Missouri - reported a decrease in motorcycle fatalities. However, many of those states also said there were fewer motorcycles on their roadways in 2011, due to factors like bad weather and drops in motorcycle registrations.

"It is disappointing that we are not making progress in motorcycle safety, particularly as fatalities involving other motorists continue to decline," said Troy Costales, GHSA chairman, in a news release. "As the study notes, the strengthening economy, high gas prices, and the lack of all-rider helmet laws leave me concerned about the final numbers for 2011 and 2012. Every motorcyclist deserves to arrive at their destination safely. These fatality figures represent real people - they're family, friends and neighbors."

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Six Vehicle Crash on West Bypass Leaves Two Dead, Four Injured

589399_road_ahead_closed.jpgOver the weekend, a serious head-on collision in west Springfield killed two motorcyclists and injured four other motorists. Ultimately, the wreck involved a van, an SUV, a pickup truck, and three motorcycles, and its aftermath necessitated the closing of a busy section of roadway for most of the day on Saturday.

The accident happened around 1:15 p.m in the 1100 block of West Bypass, near the intersection at Grand Avenue. According to the Springfield Police Department's press release regarding the incident, a Nissan Quest van and a Chevrolet Suburban were traveling north on West Bypass when they collided. The impact knocked the Suburban across the median into southbound traffic, where it struck a Harley Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle head-on.

The SUV then rotated, and it was subsequently hit by a southbound Toyota Tundra pickup truck. Two Triumph motorcycles traveling behind the truck tried to avoid the collision, but both ultimately crashed into the pickup.

The occupants of the Harley were ejected from the bike and pronounced dead at the scene. As of Monday morning, law enforcement officials had not yet released their names as they continued working to positively identify the victims and notify their next of kin.

Four others involved in the crash - occupants of the Suburban and the two Triumphs - were transported to local hospitals by ambulance. None of their injuries are believed to be life threatening. The woman driving the van and her passengers - two children - were uninjured. Police say it appears all of the motorcyclists involved in the crash were wearing proper helmets.

Thus far, police have declined to comment as to which driver was at fault: the cause of the initial collision between the SUV and the van is still unknown, according to Sergeant Tom Luellen of the Springfield Police Department. The issue is a central focus of the investigation. "That's going to take a long time to determine, we're going to have to look at these various pieces of evidence, whether it's marks on the road or injuries to people or other things and it's going to take a long time for us to piece that back together," Sgt. Luellen said.

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New Jersey Teenager Sued for Texting Friend While He Drove, Causing Crash: Is She Responsible?

1105261_two_calls.jpgThere's no question that distracted driving is a problem of epidemic proportions here in Missouri and throughout the county. Text messaging is one of the most popular forms of distraction for drivers, and most of us know how dangerous it is to send a text message while we're behind the wheel. But let's say you text a friend, knowing that he's driving, and he then causes an accident while reading or responding to the message. Can you be considerable partially responsible?

That's the question currently facing a New Jersey judge. A Dover couple recently filed a personal injury lawsuit connected to a 2009 distracted driving accident, and they're not only suing the at-fault driver, Kyle Best: they're also suing the young woman who sent him several text messages in the minutes before the accident occurred.

In September 2009, Best (then age 19) was texting and driving while commuting home from work, which caused him to drift across the center line into oncoming traffic. His pickup collided with a motorcycle ridden by David and Linda Kubert, who were both seriously injured: David's left leg was torn off above the knee, and Linda's left leg was later amputated because her injuries were so severe.

Immediately following the crash, Best told local police that he had simply looked down at his phone to see who had sent him a message. However, cell phone records revealed that Best texted the young woman just before 5:48 p.m. that day: she responded within about 30 seconds, and Best replied again. Seconds after sending that text, Best called 911 to report the accident. The records also show that the pair had exchanged multiple messages throughout the day: the Kuberts' lawyer, Stephen Weinstein, says the young woman was fully aware that Best was driving when she sent the messages, because she knew he was leaving work. He likened her actions to someone who enables a drunk driver.

"They were texting back and forth like a verbal conversation," Weinstein said, according to ABC News. "She may not have been physically present, but she was electronically present."

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Proposed Missouri Legislation Expands Existing "Move Over" Law to Include Some MoDOT Vehicles

1042703_open_highway.jpgLast week, a panel of Missouri lawmakers approved an amended version of our state's "move over" law, sending SB 568 on to await votes in both the House and the Senate. The current version of the law (Section 304.022) requires drivers to yield the right of way, pull to the right and stop for moving emergency vehicles using sirens and/or red and blue lights. Additionally, under existing law, drivers must change lanes when approaching and passing non-moving emergency vehicles. SB 568 expands the "move over" statute to include protection for stationary Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) vehicles with flashing white or amber lights.

Missouri State Senator Mike Parson, who sponsored the bill, says the expansion is of special significance. "The idea behind this bill is to protect both motorists and state employees on our sometimes dangerous roadways," Senator Parson said in a news release. "We already have laws which require drivers to slow down while driving through MoDOT construction zones, and we have a law that requires vehicles to slow down when approaching emergency vehicles. We need to give the same courtesy and respect to our transportation employees, who keep our roads safe and clear - a valuable and vital resource to our state."

SB 568 also broadens the definition of "emergency vehicle" to include "any vehicle owned by the commission and operated by a Department of Transportation employee that is marked as an emergency response or motorist assistance vehicle." Interestingly, the new law does not apply to MoDOT mowing vehicles, which will be out in increased numbers starting May 14, when roadside mowing projects are scheduled to begin throughout the state.

Even so, MoDOT officials urge drivers to be prepared to encounter mowing operations in the months ahead, and to approach these operations with extreme caution. Moving over for mowing operations may not be required by law, but it's certainly a smart, safe practice.

Marisa Brown-Ellison, information manager for MoDOT's Northeast District, concurs. "Obviously it's safer for them (motorists) to move over and just do so out of courtesy to give them a little bit of room," Brown-Ellison told the Hannibal Courier Post. "[But] if they don't have the white and amber lights flashing and they're not parked, then it's not a legal issue."

Drivers can expect to see MoDOT tractors and "follow trucks" on roadways from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday (and on some Fridays in May) until late October, when the last of 3 mowing cycles is complete.

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Freak Accident Causes Car's Gas Tank to Explode, Killing 3 Teens

868517_a_driver.jpgOn Thursday in Melbourne, Australia, a freak car accident caused a vehicle to burst into flames instantaneously, leaving 3 teenagers dead and investigators working to determine how and why such a thing occurred.

Witnesses reported seeing a Mercedes-Benz sedan fishtailing as it pulled off of a side street and onto Westgarth Road in Melbourne's inner north. Moments later, the vehicle ran off the road, struck a parked car, slammed into a tree, and wound up wedged in between a utility pole and a brick wall. The occupants were trapped inside.

The accident brought down several power lines, and also caused the Mercedes' gas tank to rupture and then ignite only moments later. Initially, police believed that the power lines had started the blaze, but they later determined that the fire was likely caused by engine heat or a spark from the car's battery. Within seconds, the occupants were incinerated.

It may be weeks before the victims are formally identified: the bodies were so badly burned that police will have to use dental records and DNA to make a definitive identification. However, they believe they know who the victims are: three young men, the 19 year-old driver and 2 friends, both age 18. In fact, the fire was so severe that police initially feared there was a 4th victim. It took a full day for them to confirm that there were only 3 people in the vehicle.

According to media reports, the driver was speeding at the time of the crash, but not excessively. Police continue to investigate what caused the Mercedes to fishtail, since that fishtailing was the catalyst for the accident. They will attempt to determine if the driver intentionally caused his tires to spin, or if he swerved to avoid an obstacle in the roadway and then lost traction in the rainy conditions. Police have already ruled out alcohol as a possible contributing factor.

Especially at this time of year, teen roadway safety is of paramount importance. Studies have shown that the coming summer months are the 100 deadliest days of the year for teen drivers. 9 of the 10 deadliest days for teens on our roadways are during the months of May through August, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Parents are urged to speak with their teen drivers about the responsibility of safe driving and the consequences of making poor decisions behind the wheel.

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