GREENFIELD — The defense attorney for a man accused of reckless homicide told a jury the bus her client was driving last summer had mechanical problems before it crashed, killing a 6-year-old boy.
Charles Goodman, 54, of Gary, tested positive for cocaine after he flipped a church bus en route to a youth conference near the 107-mile marker on eastbound Interstate 70 last summer, police said. But Bonnie Wooten, Goodman’s attorney, told jurors Monday the bus had been plagued by problems long before the accident.
As Goodman’s trial began Monday in Hancock County Superior Court 1, Wooten argued the bus was purchased by church leaders just days before the trip and might have never undergone a certified inspection.
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A dozen people were traveling on the bus bound for a church conference in Ohio. Eleven of those passengers, including Goodman, were injured when Goodman lost control of the bus; one passenger, 6-year-old Jacob Williams, died at the scene.
Goodman faces a Level 4 felony charge of causing death while intoxicated, in addition to a Level 5 felony charge of reckless homicide and a Class A misdemeanor of driving with a suspended license.
Monday, a jury of 12 Hancock County residents heard from members of the St. Jude Family Deliverance Worship Center, who rode on the bus with Goodman prior to the accident, and the Indiana State Police troopers who investigated the crash.
Church members testified the bus experienced some mechanical difficulties as the caravan made its way from Gary to central Indiana. Somewhere near Whitestown, along Interstate 65, the bus — which at that time was being driven by Latahua Gardner of Gary — shut down, and its battery needed a jump start to continue, witnesses testified.
While prosecutors worked toward their goal of proving Goodman climbed behind the wheel with a suspended license after using cocaine, Gardner, who holds a commercial driver’s license, told the jury the church bus was more difficult to steer than the average car, but it wasn’t too troublesome. Goodman, who does not hold the license that would have qualified him to drive the bus, started driving after it had experienced battery trouble.
State police officers, however, said there was no indication that the bus had mechanical trouble before the accident. If something had caused the power steering to fail, the bus would have been more difficult to turn, but it would not be unsafe to drive, police testified.
Instead, it seemed more likely a sleepy or intoxicated Goodman caused the crash, police said. Tire tracks at the accident scene showed Goodman drove right off the roadway and never tried to correct his direction of travel, police officers testified.
Evidence at the scene indicated Goodman never tried to brake to avoid a cluster a trees near the 107 mile marker; and he collided with those trees while maintaining speeds of at least 70 miles per hour, police said.
Church member Cecil Rollins, who was riding in the bus with Goodman that day, testified that Goodman was acting oddly prior to the accident.
Rollins heard the defendant saying over and over again, “In a minute, you’re going to see the sign for Ohio,” just before the accident occurred.
Goodman repeated the phrase at least 10 times, Rollins testified, noting the church caravan was at least an hour from the Indiana-Ohio state line when Goodman was muttering the phrase.
“After that, all I remember is black smoke,” Rollins said.
Indiana State Trooper Wade Heiny told the jury of the chaos at the scene following the crash.
Passengers of all ages climbed from open windows to escape the wreckage, Heiny testified. Goodman was airlifted to a hospital in Indianapolis with injuries that were not life-threatening.
A quick head count revealed a young boy was missing from the church crowd, Heiny said. A few moments later, police spotted bright orange soles of 6-year-old Jacob’s sneakers peeking out from under the wreckage.
“There was nothing we could do for him,” Heiny said.
Goodman’s trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. Proceedings are open to the public.