Trial for Buchanan man in fatal OWI crash delayed again

Published 5:27 pm Thursday, March 30, 2023

NILES — The trial of the Buchanan man accused of driving drunk and killing a Berrien County Road Department worker last summer has been delayed again with no new dates set. Meanwhile, a motion hearing on possible evidence to bring in or exclude from the trial is also scheduled to be held. 

Taylor Ryan Johnson, 34, of Buchanan is charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death in connection with the death of Berrien County Road Department worker William “Mack” Isom, 57, of Baroda. That charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10.000. 

The incident occurred July 20, 2022 on Red Bud Trail near Glendora Road in Oronoko Township. Isom had been working on cutting up a fallen tree which was in the roadway across Red Bud Trail.  Isom had worked for the road department for over two decades. 

He was allegedly hit and killed by a southbound vehicle driven at a high rate of speed by Johnson. The Michigan State Police conducted an accident reconstruction of the incident. Johnson sustained minor injuries and was later arrested for operating while intoxicated causing death. 

The police report about the incident stated that Isom was found lying in the road when police arrived. They also found Johnson’s damaged vehicle and Johnson walking around. He told police that he had been driving the car and had not seen Isom. A witness told police that they saw Johnson’s vehicle hit Isom. 

Police did field sobriety tests on Johnson including balance and blood alcohol levels. He was found to have a blood alcohol level of .194 at the scene and later had a blood alcohol level of.161 when tested at Lakeland Hospital in St. Joseph. Both levels are more than twice the legal limit. 

Johnson was in Berrien County Trial Court here on Thursday for a status conference and motion hearing. Berrien County Trial Judge Jennifer Smith granted an adjournment in the case Thursday after an hour long conference in chambers with Johnson’s attorney, Trevor Maveal, and Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Jerry Vigansky. 

Johnson had initially been scheduled for trial in early January and most recently had been set for trial in April. Judge Smith told Maveal and Vigansky that this will be the last adjournment she will grant.  “I anticipate and can say that this will be the last adjournment,” she said.  

The issue Thursday was a motion hearing over Maveal’s intention to bring in evidence regarding Isom’s actions that day. In response, Vigansky filed a motion to exclude that evidence. 

Vigansky said after Thursday’s court action that Maveal wants to bring in evidence to show that Isom failed to set up enough traffic safety cones to warn motorists when he was clearing fallen branches from the roadway. The argument would be that if more cones had been set up, Johnson would have more clearly seen them and stopped. 

The motion hearing-along with the trial-was postponed Thursday when neither side was ready to bring in witnesses for the hearing. “I’m granting the adjournment because the outcome of the motion is important to both sides,” Judge Smith said. 

She said she anticipates holding the motion hearing and making the ruling that day. The trial would then be on the schedule to start soon after that, with it running from a Tuesday through a Friday to make sure it gets done within a week. Trials in Niles normally start on a Wednesday. 

Judge Smith also ordered both sides to provide their lists of witnesses for both the hearing and the trial to the other side. No dates had been set Thursday for the hearing or the trial.