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Stafford v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 31, 2017

Jordan Stafford, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable Sheila Carlisle, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 49G03-1511-FC-39288

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Michael R. Fisher Marion County Public Defender Agency Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Katherine Cooper Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Bradford, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] On the morning of May 9, 2014, Coty DeMoss and Kenneth Duerson were working on a traffic project on Interstate 69 in Marion County. DeMoss and Duerson were helping to dismantle an arrow board in order to open a closed lane of traffic. DeMoss and Duerson were completing this task when a truck driven by Appellant-Defendant Jordan Stafford crashed into the back of another truck parked at the worksite, pinning one of the workers between the arrow board and truck and killing them both. Stafford was ultimately convicted of two counts of reckless operation in a highway work zone causing death and sentenced to an aggregate sentence of ten years of incarceration. Stafford contends that his one act of reckless driving in a highway work zone cannot sustain two convictions, even though it caused two deaths. In light of the Indiana Supreme Court's holding in Kelly v. State, 539 N.E.2d 25 (Ind. 1989), we are constrained to agree. Consequently, we reverse in part and remand for further proceedings.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On the morning of May 9, 2014, DeMoss and Duerson were working for Rieth-Riley Construction on Interstate 69 north of 82nd Street in Marion County. DeMoss had worked for Rieth-Riley for six years and Duerson was completing his first day with the company. At approximately 5:30 a.m., Duerson and another worker, Jeff Darter, were asked to dismantle an arrow board that had been used to divert traffic from a closed lane. Darter hooked the arrow board to the back of a Rieth-Riley truck while Duerson and other workers removed placards from the lane that was no longer going to be closed. A safety strobe and "[f]our-way flashers" on Darter's truck were activated, and the light from the arrow board was still on. Tr. Vol. II p. 212.

         [¶3] While completing his work, Darter heard squealing tires and a crash, at which point he jumped over a concrete barrier. Darter soon determined that DeMoss and Duerson were missing, and ran to the arrow board where they had been working. DeMoss and Duerson had been "cut in two[, ]" and Darter saw their blood and organs. Tr. Vol. II p. 219. A truck driven by Stafford had crashed into the back of Darter's truck with sufficient force to shove the bed of Darter's truck into the cab, preventing Darter from opening its doors. Stafford's truck came to rest against the concrete barrier beyond Darter's truck, with the left front tire knocked off and the front end extensively damaged. Indiana State Police Trooper Miles Edwards responded and saw that one of the bodies was wedged between the arrow board and back of Darter's truck and was missing the left leg, while the other was nearby, cut in half with the upper portion lying on the other side of Stafford's truck. It was determined that Stafford was initially travelling at a speed of around seventy-four miles per hour, which had slowed to approximately sixty-eight miles per hour by the time he hit Darter's truck. Witnesses recalled that Stafford had not attempted to switch lanes despite a visible arrow instructing drivers to do so.

         [¶4] On November 5, 2015, the Marion County grand jury indicted Stafford on two counts of Class C felony reckless operation in a highway work zone causing death and two counts of Class C felony failure to obey traffic control device resulting in death. On July 13, 2016, a petit jury found Stafford guilty as charged. On August 10, 2016, the trial court vacated the two failure-to-obey-traffic-control-device-resulting-in-death convictions and sentenced Stafford to five years of incarceration for each count of reckless operation in a highway work zone causing death, to be served consecutively, for an aggregate sentence of ten years.

         Discussion and Decision

         Whether Stafford's Conduct May Sustain Two Convictions for Reckless Operation in a Highway Work Zone Causing Death

         [¶5] Stafford contends that he cannot be convicted of and sentenced for the deaths of both DeMoss and Duerson. Although Stafford frames this a challenge based on constitutional prohibitions against double jeopardy, it is actually a challenge based on statutory interpretation and the Indiana common-law principle that one may not be convicted of and punished "for a crime which consists of the very same act as another crime for which the defendant has been convicted and punished." Guyton v. State, 771 N.E.2d 1141, 1143 (Ind. 2002) (citation omitted). Stafford contends that because Indiana Code section 9-21-8-56 is written as a conduct-based, rather than result-based, statute, his conduct may sustain only one conviction, even though there were multiple victims.

         [¶6] "The interpretation of a statute is a question of law reserved for the courts." Scott v. Irmeger, 859 ...


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