Man gets jail for fatal crash charge

Published 9:43 am Tuesday, April 11, 2017

An Indiana man accused of causing the death of another man in a car crash was sentenced to 210 days in the Berrien County Jail and 24 months of probation Monday, in Berrien County Trial Court.
Joseph Jeffery, 28, of Elkhart, was charged with a moving violation causing death, a misdemeanor crime. Jeffery plead no contest to the court, meaning he conceded to the charge without admitting guilt.
The accident occurred at approximately 1:52 p.m. June 20, 2016. According to police reports, Jeffery was traveling northbound in his Chevy Avalanche on the U.S. 31 Bypass, when he left the roadway at about 60 to 65 mph, crossing the median and entering into the south bound path of a Ford Transit, driven by Jason Morse, who was traveling at about 70 mph. After the collision, Morse was pinned inside his vehicle and had to be extracted with the Jaws of Life. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the police report.

Joseph Jeffery

One witness driving a semi-tank behind Morse in the fast lane said he saw the gray Chevy that “shot right into the white van.” The driver of the semi-tank pulled over to see if he could help those injured. He told police that the driver of the van looked deceased when he approached the vehicle. Upon approaching the other driver, he heard the man saying “my baby, my baby” and then the driver appeared to pass out.
Several witnesses said that there was a light misting of rain, but described the roads as dry.
One witness, who was driving in front of Jeffery, said that he saw a gray Chevy pass him and enter the fast lane. According to this witness, Jeffery did not appear to be swerving, but the car passed “suddenly” off the median. The witness told police he did not observe brake lights until the impact.
When authorities arrived at the scene, Jeffery was uncooperative with emergency responders trying to assist him. The police report stated that he would say, “don’t touch me,” during treatment on scene. When officers tried to question him, he was said to just have “stared.”
Jeffery was transported to Lakeland Hospital in St. Joseph. The police report stated that his injuries at the time were unknown.
Police who searched Jeffery’s vehicle said they found an empty pill jar that smelled of marijuana. Jeffery’s blood was tested and revealed that there were no drugs or alcohol in his system. Police continued to try and press him for answers to the unknowns in the accident, but Jeffery was said to have refused to talk with officers.
Jeffery was also found to be operating the vehicle without a valid driver’s license. He was also on probation in Huntington County, Indiana at the time, court documents stated.
On Monday, family and friends of Morse filled the courtroom hoping for answers as to why Jeffery had crashed, causing Morse’s death.
“Why can’t you tell us the truth?” asked Morse’s 12-year-old daughter. “Because of your senseless acts, my father and I are going to miss out on a lot of things that most kids get to do.”
But for Morse’s daughter, having her father gone will mean more than missing milestones with the person she loves, she said.
“Who will give me advice that makes me laugh so hard I forget my fears?” she asked Jeffery. “My dad is missing me watching me grow up. He didn’t even get to see me turn 13. Can you promise that next time you get behind the wheel you won’t hurt or kill someone else?”
Morse’s other daughter, 18, told the court she never got the chance to tell her father she loved him one last time.
“Your actions are the cause of my nightmares,” she said. “The reason I cannot sleep. The reason I see what I came home to over and over: cop cars, a slew of people crying on my porch for a reason I did not yet know.”
Morse’s wife described the hardship of telling her children that their dad was dead. She told Jeffery he had taken away a great father and husband, who she described as a handyman and kind and patient person.
“Your careless negligence resulted in the ending of a life of a man who lived life to the fullest every day,” she said. “You stole the strongest pillar of our family.”
She echoed what her daughters had asked him earlier: Why had this happened?
“What were you doing in Michigan on that Monday afternoon?” she said. “I hate that you have not given us closure by truthfully displaying exactly what happened when you killed Jason.”
When given the chance to speak, Jeffery shed a few tears. He turned to face Morse’s family and said that he was truly sorry for what he was done. But he had no answers to their questions or pleas for closure.
“I am sorry,” Jeffery said. “I wish I had the word to explain how I feel.”
Defense attorney Lanny Fisher argued that the PSI stated that Jeffery had been cooperative and remorseful.
Judge Angela Pasula said had Jeffery followed the law, such a tragedy would not have occurred.
“You did not have a driver’s license. It was suspended,” Pasula said. “This is probably the heaviest most significant loss that a human being can have to bear.”
In addition to jail time, Pasula ordered that Jeffery be forbidden to drive under any circumstances. He was also sentenced to 150 hours of community service and a substance abuse evaluation.