The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 11, 2012

Driver in crash that killed two MSSU football players pleads innocent to manslaughter

The driver of a sport-utility vehicle that crashed in December on Interstate 44, killing two Missouri Southern State University football players, has pleaded innocent to two charges of involuntary manslaughter related to the athletes’ deaths.

A probable-cause statement on file in Jasper County Circuit Court also alleges that the blood-alcohol content of the driver, Jeremy Johnson, 20, was above the legal limit in Missouri.

Diondre Johnson and Michael McCrimmons, both 19 and from Springfield, were killed in a series of early morning crashes Dec. 2, 2011. Jeremy Johnson, of Harrison, Ark., and Patrick Holt, of Benton, Ark., both sustained serious injuries in the accident.

The four students, who had been athletes at Missouri Southern, were said to have been returning to Joplin after visiting a nightclub in Springfield.

Tyson Martin, Jeremy Johnson’s lawyer, said that information “is consistent” with what he knows of the accident, but he declined to elaborate Wednesday.

“With regard to what went on before the accident occurred, I expect there will be some interesting information come forward about where the boys were and what was going on in the time leading up to the accident,” Martin said.

J.D. Fischer, the Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper who investigated the crash, affirmed in the probable-cause statement that he “noticed a faint odor of an alcoholic beverage” upon entering the ambulance where Jeremy Johnson was receiving immediate medical attention.

Fischer said that Johnson, who was in “obvious pain” from his injuries, tried to answer Fischer’s questions related to his name, birth date, address and phone number.

When Fischer asked Johnson what had happened, “he responded by saying, ‘I tried to control it, I tried to control it,’” according to the statement. Fischer also said he asked Johnson if he had been driving, and Johnson “responded with a slight head nod yes and said again, ‘I tried to control it,’” according to the statement.

Johnson was then flown by medical helicopter to Freeman Hospital West in Joplin. Fischer, according to his statement, left the scene of the accident at 7:30 a.m. and went to the hospital, but Johnson had already been transferred to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Okla. Fischer said he was unable to get a blood sample that morning from Johnson to be able to test for alcohol, a test that is required by state law of drivers involved in a fatality accident.

On Dec. 12, Fischer applied for a subpoena to get Johnson’s medical records from Freeman Hospital West, according to the probable-cause statement.

Fischer said that on Dec. 20, he got the records from the hospital. Those records showed that the blood that had been drawn from Johnson at 4:11 a.m. on the morning of the crash had registered 0.11 percent, according to the statement. The legal limit in Missouri for drivers is 0.08 percent.

When asked whether he could comment on the allegations in the probable-cause statement or on the charges against his client, Martin declined on Wednesday, saying his investigation into the incident is ongoing.

“We’re still in an information-gathering phase from the defense aspect,” said Martin, who is based in Springfield.

The highway patrol said the series of accidents began at about 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 2,  when a sport-utility vehicle, driven by Johnson, ran off the westbound lanes into the median cables two miles east of Sarcoxie. The vehicle overturned and came to rest in the eastbound passing lane of the interstate.

Diondre Johnson was thrown from the vehicle, the patrol said. The patrol said McCrimmons and Holt were inside the sport-utility vehicle when it was struck by an eastbound tractor-trailer rig driven by Steven Sweeten, 39, of Cameron, Okla. Sweeten was not injured.

The patrol said Jeremy Johnson was walking across the eastbound driving lane to the highway shoulder when he was hit by an eastbound car driven by Charles A. Lee, 62, of Wentworth. Lee was not injured.

Jeremy Johnson is recovering from his injuries, having undergone several surgeries, and is still facing multiple surgeries, Martin said.

Next court date

Jeremy Johnson’s next date in court is set for Aug. 16. His bond has been set at $1,500.

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