A Muscogee County State Court judge has set a trial date for an Oklahoma City man accused of causing a crash on Manchester Expressway that killed his 10-week-old son more than five years ago.
John T. Brown IV, 29, faces a list of misdemeanor counts, including second-degree vehicular homicide, failing to use a proper child restraint and failing to stay in his lane. Prosecutors, at a hearing this morning before Judge Andy Prather, tacked on a reckless driving charge, said Columbus Solicitor General Ben Richardson.
Brown is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 5 if no plea agreement is reached before then, Richardson said.
The 2007 case appeared to have fallen through the cracks of the local justice system before the Ledger-Enquirer began inquiring about its status this summer. The newspaper first reported on the stalled proceedings in July in a story about car seat safety.
The fatal crash happened Sept. 1, 2007, as Brown and his wife were passing through Columbus en route to Savannah, Ga., to visit friends. Brown told the authorities he became sleepy after driving all night, and asked his wife if she would drive.
"He stated that his wife told him to pull over so they could change places, but he told her no they would just change as the vehicle was moving," Lance Deaton, now a sergeant in the Columbus Police Department, wrote in an investigative police report obtained by the newspaper.
Brown told police he set the 2004 Isuzu Rodeo in cruise control between 73 and 75 mph and began switching places with his wife. She bumped the steering wheel, prompting both of them to pull it in opposite directions, according to police. The vehicle veered off the road, crossed the median and flipped several times before crashing into a tree.
Ejected from his car seat and the vehicle, Brown's infant son was found lying near the roadway. The baby, John Theodore Brown V, was taken to The Medical Center and pronounced dead a couple hours after the crash.
His injuries included a fractured skull, broken left femur, broken clavicle and several head injuries.
Police, after investigating the car seat, alleged that the baby had not been properly restrained, while Brown maintained that the seat had malfunctioned. Police reports said the base of the seat was loose and "not properly or securely mounted in the vehicle.”
The harness straps were buckled in place, police said, but did not appear to be tightened. “It should be noted,” a report added, “that this child safety seat carrier can only be tightened on the rear of the seat and is usually tightened to fit the child at different growth times. The seat does not have a strap to pull to tighten the harness on the child every time the child is placed in the seat.”
In a follow-up interview, Brown’s wife told investigators that she felt guilty for buying a used car seat for her son instead of a new one.
Brown was jailed on the misdemeanor charges but posted about $3,255 bond. His case stalled after he allegedly failed to show for a 2010 trial date. Court records show Brown forfeited his bond after missing the court appearance. Richardson has said it's not clear why a bench warrant wasn't issued for Brown's arrest.
But Brown's defense attorney, Richard C. Hagler, has said his client did not fail to show in court and had been "excused from coming back.”
“Because of some legal issues that I think it’s inappropriate for me to go into right now, I think what he ultimately faces is yet to be determined,” Hagler said this afternoon.