The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

November 18, 2013

Trooper trial: No way to calculate speed at crash

ATHENS — The opening day of the criminal trial of Alabama State Trooper Heath Moss did little more than establish time, location and circumstances of the rear-end collision that took the lives of Tanner couple Jamie Lee Gossett, 31, and Sarah Rene Gossett, 38.

Moss, 31, is being tried on two misdemeanor charges of criminally negligent homicide after reports say he crashed into the back of the Gossett vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed on his way to another wreck.

Criminally negligent homicide is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in the county jail. Moss is currently assigned to administrative duties at the Alabama State Troopers office in Huntsville.

Records show the wreck occurred at about 9:35 a.m. on April 25, 2011, at the intersection of Lucas Ferry and Moyers roads. The wreck also killed the two family dogs. The Gossett car burst into flame and the occupants burned beyond recognition.

A Decatur trooper post dispatcher testified that she received a call about a single-car wreck on (Huntsville)-Brownsferry Road, just west of Lucas Ferry road in which a young child suffered head injuries.

Moments later, she received a transmission from Moss saying that he was headed south on Lucas Ferry Road, traveling approximately 85 mph on his way to the wreck with the injured child when a car pulled out from Moyers Road, just as he crested a hill.

He said he had both his lights and siren employed when he was unable to stop and crashed into the back of the Gossett couple’s white 1995 Mitsubishi Mirage. He reported that the car was on fire and at least one of the occupants was “10-89” – deceased – and that he was not injured.

Meanwhile, Lt. Jonathan Hinton of the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office, who was serving as a school resource officer at nearby Tanner High School, heard the reports of the first accident involving the child on the scanner and also that there wasn’t anyone immediately available to respond.

Hinton traveled to the first wreck site.

“Troopers had already been dispatched and an ambulance was on the way,” testified Hinton. “I checked on the little girl.”

He said that although the parents of the child were “frantic,” she wasn’t in danger. He said one of the other arriving officers heard about the nearby collision between Moss and the Gossetts and he left for that site. He said when he arrived, he closed north and south traffic on Lucas Ferry and when Athens Police arrived, they closed off east and west traffic on Moyers Road.

Hinton said he was unable to get near the Gossett car because it was still on fire and the heat was too intense.

Moss’s supervisor, Joel Baker, testified he traveled to the site as soon as he got word of the trooper’s involvement.

“I had already contacted him by cellphone and he said he was going approximately 90 mph,” said Baker. “I brought him to my car and he didn’t say much more.”

Next, District Attorney Brian Jones called Cpl. John Carl Singletary to the stand. Singletary is a first-line supervisor and a traffic homicide investigator at the Decatur trooper post. Singletary is also an accident reconstructionist.

Singletary explained positions of dozens of photos taken from all angles, from trooper helicopter and by trooper investigators on the ground. Gouge marks in the road at the intersection showed the moment of impact, which Singletary called the moment that Moss “loaded onto” the Gossett vehicle.

He said that when two vehicles collide that are headed in the same direction, the opposing force is gravity and the only way to go is down. He also identified the charred wreckage of the Gossett vehicle from all conceivable angles.

The wrecked and burned car came to rest on its roof a few feet off the road after having traveled upright for nearly 150 feet from the collision. Jones showed photos after the car was turned upright and before emergency workers cut the top off the vehicle to remove the bodies and more photos of the car after the bodies had been removed from the site.

Circuit Judge Robert Baker then called a recess and the jurors where ushered out of the courtroom.

With the jurors out of the room, defense attorneys Jim Wooley and Gary Hetzel of Birmingham, as well as Jones, approached Baker’s bench and Wooley argued vigorously that Jones was trying to illustrate through the showing of the charred car and possibly, later, the charred bodies of the Gossetts, that Moss was traveling at a higher velocity than he said he was.

Lucas Ferry Road is a two-lane road with a slight rise on the southbound lane near the intersection, and a posted speed limit of 45 mph. According to a Gossett family attorney, the black box from the trooper’s car indicated Moss was driving as fast as 120 mph immediately before the crash.

“The showing of charred bodies cannot prove velocity,” argued Wooley. “There is no mathematical equation and no rules of evidence for showing velocity.”

Wooley conceded that the photos do prove “severity of impact” but not velocity.

Singletary said before the jury returned that he was “not aware” of any formula for velocity.

“Does any type of burning equate to any kind of speed?” asked Wooley.

“No, sir,” answered Singletary.

The state offered the Gossett family a $1 million settlement 16 days after the accident but the family declined. Attorneys on behalf of the family filed two separate civil lawsuits against Moss seeking unspecified damages and a jury trial.

Testimony is scheduled resume at 9 a.m. today.

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