The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 19, 2013

Jurors learn of "black box" data in trooper trial

By Karen Middleton
For The News Courier

— Jurors in the second day of testimony in the criminal trial of Alabama State Trooper Heath Moss heard two accident re-constructionists tell of data retrieved from both the Power Control Module and the Airbag Control Module — or “black boxes” — of the trooper’s 2004 Ford Crown Victoria.

The data showed Moss, who was answering another wreck call in which it was reported that a small child had suffered head injuries, was traveling from 106 to 120 mph 3 seconds before he struck the rear left corner of a 1995 Mitsubishi Mirage, causing the death of a 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. Opening day testimony revealed the child from the first wreck was not seriously injured.

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. District Attorney Brian Jones said the Gossett car was pushed 148 feet south from impact on Lucas Ferry Road before leaving the right hand side of the road, traveling another 43 feet, overturning and bursting into flame.

The occupants were burned beyond recognition and positive identification was obtained by consulting dental records.

Cpl. John Carl Singletary, a first-line supervisor and a traffic homicide investigator at the Decatur trooper post, resumed his testimony from Monday. He said when he downloaded the “black box” data from the trooper’s vehicle, it showed that 20 seconds prior to the crash, Moss was traveling at 120 mph with the “throttle” — gas pedal — 99.5 percent engaged. Within 3.4 seconds of the collision, the data showed speed still at 120 mph. The black box data also showed speed at impact when the airbags deployed as 51.8 mph.

Jones called a second accident re-constructionist, Cpl. Thomas Glenn Taylor Jr., of the Huntsville trooper post, to the stand Tuesday. Taylor’s investigation results were obtained by mathematic computations.  He said his computations showed the trooper car traveling at 106 mph 3 seconds before the crash, at which time Moss braked hard and swerved to the right to try to avoid the Gossett car or minimize impact.

Moss’s typewritten report, which Taylor read, said that as Moss approached the Gossett car from the rear, headed south on Lucas Ferry Road, he had his lights and siren engaged. He said he was traveling in the left-hand lane while Gossett was traveling in the right-hand lane.

Suddenly, according to the report, the Gossett car veered into the left-hand lane so as to make a left-hand turn onto east Moyers Road and directly into the trooper’s path. Taylor conjectured that that was the point when Gossett noticed the trooper behind him and came to a stop rather than completing his turn.

Moss said he made a hard right turn to avoid the Gossett vehicle but struck the left rear of the car. Moss’s reports said that once he was able to stop his car in a field beyond where the Gossett car came to rest on its top, he ran back to the car and ascertained that the driver was deceased.

He said he saw flames coming from under the front of the car and heard what he thought was a gas line popping and got away from the car before it exploded.

Defense attorneys Jim Wooley and Gary Wetzel and Jones met with Circuit Judge Robert Baker at 8 a.m. Tuesday before second day opening testimony. Baker approved a defense motion to not display photos of the victims’ charred bodies in open court.

A visibly distraught Baker stopped the proceedings early Tuesday afternoon, calling for a recess until 9 a.m. Wednesday, because of an illness in Baker’s family.