Trucker pleads to lesser offense in traffic death

LISBON – Michael Bair, the man accused in the death of an East Liverpool man in an accident on state Route 7 last year, agreed Tuesday in Columbiana County Municipal Court to plead no contest to a lesser charge of vehicular manslaughter and assured clear distance.

The plea agreement did not seem to set well with some members of family of the victim in the case.

Bair, 32, of Poland, had faced a first-degree misdemeanor vehicular homicide charge after David Mayfield, 35, Annesley Road, East Liverpool, was killed on March 13, 2012 by a dump truck overturning onto his Dodge Durango off the side of state Route 7. Bair, the driver of the dump truck, was hauling gravel for Sebastian Trucking Inc. at the time of the accident.

Bair pleaded no contest to both the vehicular manslaughter charge, a second-degree misdemeanor, and the assured clear distance citation. Judge Mark Frost fined Bair $100 for assured clear distance. Sentencing was scheduled for next month on the vehicular manslaughter charge.

Assistant County Prosecutor Don Humphrey Jr. explained the vehicular homicide charge is more difficult for the prosecution to prove, especially to a jury. He continued that vehicular homicide makes it “necessary to prove a substantial lapse of due care” by the defendant. Whereas the alternate vehicular manslaughter only requires proof that a minor misdemeanor traffic violation caused the death of another person.

If Bair had been charged with both vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter, Humphrey pointed out a jury could be asked to consider if there was enough evidence of substantial lapse of due care and if the jury decided there was not, the person could still be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter.

At the same time, Humphrey stated the case was strong and paint samples recently obtained on a search warrant appear to have bolstered his case, although the final report has not been received from the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.

Humphrey said he will ask for a 90-day jail sentence, but ask for some to be suspended. Additionally, he will ask for a $500 fine, a 90-day license suspension and two years probation.

“We will ask for either 30 days in jail,” Humphrey said, “or if he’s not working and we understand at this time he is not we will require 45 days in jail without work release.”

Family members could be heard grumbling in the courtroom about the proposed plea agreement. Several months earlier Bair had changed attorneys, which in the eyes of Mayfield’s family only delayed the process for a while.

Speaking on behalf of some of the dozen family members of Mayfield in the courtroom, attorney Nick Amato said the family members he spoke to did not agree with the plea agreement, which amended the charge and allowed Bair to plead no contest to the charge.

“They are upset it has gone on as long as it has,” Amato said. “Mr. Mayfield has been gone a year now and we are back at almost the same point we were three months ago.”

Amato represents Mayfield’s widow, Diana Mayfield, in a civil case which has already been filed in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court.

Frost scheduled sentencing on May 1 for the vehicular manslaughter charge. Family members and those on both sides will be allowed to make statements or submit them in writing prior to sentencing.

There is a deposition in the civil case scheduled for May 3. While noting the civil case is still pending, Frost said he hopes the resolution of the criminal portion can still help the family move on. He said that in the past Mayfield had been in the courtroom serving as a bail bondsman and although he did not know Mayfield well, he remembered him as a likeable man.

“Money isn’t going to make anything better here,” Frost said. “The only thing that would help is a time machine and I’m sure every person in this courtroom wishes we had one of those.”

In late 2011, Diana Mayfield had filed for divorce from David Mayfield. The case went unresolved prior to his death on March 13, 2012.