GREENFIELD — Charles Goodman might have had drugs in his system when he flipped a church bus on Interstate 70 last summer, killing a 6-year-old boy; but his actions didn’t amount to reckless homicide, a jury decided Tuesday.
The 54-year-old Gary man, accused of driving while under the influence of drugs and causing the crash that killed Jacob Williams and injured a dozen others, was found guilty of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death and driving while suspended following a two-day trial in Hancock County Superior Court 1.
But jurors decided Goodman was not guilty of reckless homicide — despite prosecutors attempts to convince the 12 Hancock County residents serving on the jury that Goodman acted carelessly when he didn’t warn his passengers he’d used cocaine in the days leading up to the crash.
A caravan of parishioners from the St. Jude Family Deliverance Worship Center in Gary were en route to a church conference in Ohio when the crash occurred last July.
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Goodman was driving a bus with a dozen passengers onboard when he veered off the roadway near the 107-mile marker on eastbound Interstate 70; the bus struck a group of trees and flipped.
Eleven people were injured, including Goodman, who was pinned under the wreckage and suffered a broken arm and jaw, police said.
Six-year-old Jacob Williams also was trapped under the overturned bus. He was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Police determined Goodman had drugs in his system at the time of the accident. He was charged with a Level 4 felony of causing death while intoxicated, a Level 5 felony of reckless homicide and a Class A infraction of driving with a suspended license.
How much the substance would have affected him was unclear.
Goodman used cocaine within a day of the crash, experts testified. But the drug tends to dissolve quickly once it enters a person’s blood stream, Sheila Arnold, a forensic toxicologist for the Indiana Department of Toxicology, told jurors.
When scientists tested the blood — some 20 days after the accident — there were only trace amounts left; but enough to suggest Goodman was using cocaine before he climbed behind the wheel, Arnold testified.
Cocaine typically acts as an energizer immediately after it is consumed, Arnold told jurors. The drug would have helped Goodman stay alert at first; but as it dissolved into his bloodstream, it would have made him sleepy, making it harder to focus, she said.
Goodman drove straight off of the interstate, and he never tried to redirect the bus back onto the roadway or brake to avoid a cluster of trees, suggesting he was drowsy, state troopers testified.
Goodman told police immediately after the accident he had fallen asleep behind the wheel, troopers testified.
Deputy Prosecutor John Keiffner, who presented the state’s case during trial, told jurors during his closing argument that even Goodman’s driving while sleepy was reckless.
“And the cocaine didn’t help, either,” he said.
Meanwhile, Goodman’s defense attorneys tried to paint him as a trusted member of the church, tasked with driving a bus that experienced a mechanical failure during the trip.
Bonnie Wooten, who represented Goodman, told jurors she thought the term “reckless” as it appears in the law was up to interpretation, and the word did not apply to her client’s driving.
No one on the bus that day was fearful of Goodman, and there were no 911 calls referencing an erratic bus driver before the crash, Wooten said.
Witnesses testified Monday the bus stalled while driving south on Interstate 65 somewhere between Gary and Central Indiana. Passengers jumped the battery and continued on their way, and Wooten argued it was the bus that caused the accident — not her client.
On Tuesday afternoon, Wooten called the lead pastor of St. Jude Family Deliverance Worship Center, who testified Goodman was a helpful handyman, eager to assist with different jobs around the church.
The Rev. Louise Hill told jurors she didn’t notice anything odd about Goodman’s behavior before the caravan began its trip to Ohio. She was certain her parishioners would have come forward if Goodman was acting strange or driving dangerously.
Goodman will return to court for sentencing next month. He faces two to 12 years, prosecutors said.