By Derek Spellman
NEOSHO, Mo. — Jurors deliberated for less than 40 minutes Wednesday before convicting a Joplin man who was charged with involuntary manslaughter after his pickup ran through an intersection earlier this year and collided with another vehicle, killing a woman and injuring three other people.
Jurors learned that Calvin Yarbrough’s blood-alcohol level on March 25 was about 0.25 percent — more than three times the legal limit for driving — before his pickup ran through the intersection of Highway 43 and Dakota Lane, and struck a sport utility vehicle carrying four people en route to Joplin.
Killed in the crash was Gerri Drake, 48, of Wyandotte, Okla. Injured were her husband, Gary Drake, 57; her son, Justin Drake, 26, who was driving the vehicle; and her daughter-in-law, Brandy Drake, 26. Jurors also found Yarbrough guilty of three counts of second-degree assault for the injuries suffered by the surviving Drakes, all of whom also lived in Wyandotte.
Justin Drake told jurors in Newton County Circuit Court that he and his wife had invited his parents to accompany them to Joplin while they picked up their 2-month-old son, who had spent the day with Brandy Drake’s mother.
“He (Yarbrough) just hit us head-on,” Justin Drake said.
All three Drakes testified, focusing on an account of the accident itself.
Newton County Prosecutor Jacob Skouby presented 13 witnesses, keying in on statements that Yarbrough, 51, made to one accident witness, and on observations from emergency personnel who responded.
Roy Butler, 65, an Oklahoma truck driver who witnessed the collision, said he went to tend to Yarbrough after looking to the Drakes. Yarbrough ended up borrowing Butler’s cell phone to call a woman, although an off-duty nurse on the scene had to dial the number for him.
“What did he (Yarbrough) say (to the woman)?” Skouby asked.
“That he had really screwed up this time, that he was probably going to jail,” Butler answered.
Yarbrough had been convicted of drunken driving in 1982 and 1992, although neither conviction was introduced as evidence during his trial Wednesday.
Butler, along with a number of emergency responders, told jurors that he could smell alcohol on Yarbrough just after the accident.
A medical technologist from St. John’s Regional Medical Center, where Yarbrough was treated just after the accident, testified that his blood showed elevated levels of alcohol and his urine showed traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, a common indicator of marijuana.
Joplin police Officer Shelby Howard, who spoke with Yarbrough at the hospital and administered a sobriety examination that tested how well Yarbrough’s eyes could follow a moving finger, said Yarbrough exhibited symptoms that included bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and “indifference.”
Howard said that when Yarbrough was told that the crash had caused Gerri Drake’s death, “He didn’t show any kind of emotion whatsoever. He just lay there and asked for an attorney.”
Yarbrough’s attorney did not present any witnesses in his defense. The defendant considered testifying himself, but he abandoned that idea Wednesday.
Yarbrough’s defense attorney, public defender Frank Tolen, extensively questioned many of Skouby’s witnesses, pointing out that Yarbrough’s statements were made after he had suffered injuries in the crash.
He also contended that the state never presented any evidence showing that Yarbrough, who was eastbound on Dakota Lane before trying to turn north onto Highway 43, failed to stop for a red light. The failure to stop, he said, was one of the elements that needed to be proved for a guilty verdict to be reached.
“Calvin is not on trial for driving while intoxicated,” Tolen said, noting that any intoxication was just one of multiple issues that jurors had to weigh.
Skouby had countered with police testimony that the lights at that intersection were functioning properly, and that Yarbrough could have had the right to turn with a green arrow that could have been activated only after the southbound light turned red.
The Drakes had testified that their light was green while they entered the intersection, and that it had started to turn yellow when they were already through it.
The Drakes were passing through the intersection at 6:06 p.m. on March 25 when Yarbrough’s truck struck their vehicle, sending it careening into the concrete coping for a stoplight. The Drake vehicle bounced off that streetlight base and ended up in a ditch.
Brandy Drake was ejected from the vehicle and suffered some injuries to her hands.
Justin Drake said he climbed out of the vehicle and tended to his wife, then quickly went to his mother, who was still in the vehicle. His father also had gone to her, although the two men said she was not moving.
“We just got out and laid her on the ground,” Justin Drake said.
A potential sentencing hearing in the case of Calvin Yarbrough has been set for Nov. 30. Newton County Prosecutor Jacob Skouby said Yarbrough’s previous convictions for drunken driving will likely be raised at sentencing.