1. #1
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    Thumbs down Florida--Charges Dropped in Fatal Accident that Killed Firefighter

    I posted the original story (June 2002) on here about this, but can not seem to find it after I searched. The firefighter who was off duty had stopped at an accident that occurred in front of him to render aid. At Tractor Trailer driver who was travelling at an excessive speed for the foggy conditions slammed into the accident killing the off duty Fireifighter. Originally they declined the "Line of Duty" status but it was granted based on the EMT's "Duty to Act". Then during the Funeral the Florida Turnpike system sent a bill to the Funeral home for the toll for members in the procession. It was a big flap down here...but I can not find the original story.
    _____________________________________

    Charges dropped in deadly crash
    JIM BUYNAK
    Associated Press

    BUSHNELL - In a move that left some investigators and family members baffled and upset, prosecutors have freed a man accused of ramming a tractor-trailer into an overturned truck and killing two men as they tried to rescue a trapped couple last year.

    Investigators with the Florida Highway Patrol, who admitted there was an initial confusion as to whom was driving, said they are positive it was Mack Foster Gardner who lost control of the tractor-trailer on June 8, 2002. Gardner was released from Sumter County Jail on Tuesday when prosecutors dropped vehicular homicide charges.

    "We are convinced that Gardner was behind the wheel," said Sgt. Jorge Delahoz. "We have physical evidence and eyewitness accounts putting him behind the wheel."

    Gardner, 35, who was being held on $100,000 bail since April, and was scheduled to go to trial next month, was set free after Robert Lee Jackson, 37, the owner of the tractor-trailer, confessed under oath earlier this month to being the driver, prosecutors said.

    The tractor-trailer rammed into rescuers who were trying to help a Crystal River couple who were trapped in their Toyota pickup, which had overturned on the turnpike near Wildwood. Winter Park obstetrician Dr. N. Donald Diebel Jr., 35, and firefighter Shane Kelly, 26, died, and four others were injured.

    Conrad Juergensmeyer of the State Attorney's Office said it would be hard to convince a jury one man was guilty when another man was confessing to the crime. The prosecutor said if he was to take Gardner to trial, and the jury found him not guilty, authorities would not be able to prosecute him in the future.

    Delahoz said the FHP was not consulted about Gardner's release, but he understood the prosecution's dilemma.

    Still, FHP officials did not want Gardner to go free. They had to track him down in Georgia last year and found him hiding in an attic.

    The FHP has requested a meeting with State Attorney Brad King to discuss the case.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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  2. #2
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    Post Update May 10th, 2005

    BUSHNELL, Fla. (AP) - A trucker was found not guilty of killing
    two good Samaritans by crashing into an accident scene along
    Florida's Turnpike in 2002 - but was immediately arrested on a
    perjury charge.
    Robert Lee Jackson Jr., 38, of Valdosta, Ga., was cleared by a
    jury Friday of manslaughter by culpable negligence and other
    charges.
    In previous sworn statements, Jackson said he was driving the
    truck that killed Oviedo firefighter Shane Kelly and Winter Park
    obstetrician N. Donald Diebel Jr. and injured six others near
    Wildwood, prosecutors said.
    On the stand Thursday, Jackson said the other person in the
    truck was driving.
    State Attorney Brad King said more perjury charges could follow.
    If convicted, Jackson could face five years in prison on each
    charge.
    "Our point today was just to do what we needed to so he didn't
    get out," King said.
    Investigators say Jackson told them he was driving the truck
    that rammed into Diebel, Kelly and the other rescuers. They were
    trying to help a Crystal River couple trapped in their Toyota
    pickup, which had overturned on the turnpike near Wildwood.
    Investigators have had a tough time determining who was the
    driver. The other man in the truck was arrested months after the
    accident, and was jailed for nearly nine months. But Mack Foster
    Gardner was released because of Jackson's alleged confession.

    (Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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  3. #3
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    Trucker's trial in road deaths to start

    Orlando Sentinel

    By Sherri M. Owens | Sentinel Staff Writer
    Posted May 2, 2005


    BUSHNELL -- A pickup truck had run off Florida's Turnpike in the rain and flipped over in the median.

    Dr. N. Donald Diebel Jr., a Winter Park obstetrician, was driving his family north on vacation when he saw the truck and pulled over to help.

    Oviedo firefighter Shane Kelly pulled up behind Diebel's minivan, told his wife to stay put for safety and joined the rescue effort.

    As the two tried to open the pickup door, "a semi just came out of nowhere and plowed right into them," Kelly's wife, Rachel, would later tell lawyers about the June 2002 collision near Wildwood. "I saw a couple of bodies fly through the air."

    Diebel, 35, and Kelly, 26, were killed. Several others who had stopped to help were hurt.

    This week, the owner of the tractor-trailer that slammed into them stands trial in Sumter County, accused of causing the deaths and injuries because of the truck's poor condition.

    Prosecutors say the truck had bad brakes, bald tires and broken windshield wipers.

    Robert Lee Jackson Jr., 38, of Valdosta, Ga., is charged with two counts of manslaughter by culpable negligence and six charges of culpable negligence leading to injury of others.

    Rachel Kelly said Saturday she expects to be at the courthouse every day of the trial.

    "We've been pushing for this day to happen," she said. "The loss was terrible. It has been devastating for me, the family and the Fire Department. It has been a roller-coaster ride emotionally, up and down."

    Because she is likely to be called to testify, she would not discuss details of the case.

    The motorists had stopped to help the trapped couple, Derek and Andrea Edstrom of Crystal River, who were returning from their honeymoon. She was treated at Leesburg Regional Medical Center. Her husband suffered minor injuries.

    Jackson told lawyers preparing for trial that he had no choice but to drive toward the median, where the pickup and rescuers were gathered.

    He said he had been driving in the right lane and moved to the left when he saw another tractor-trailer in front of him. Then a car stopped in front of him. He told a Florida Highway Patrol investigator that he "dove in the median" to avoid hitting the car.

    Authorities rushed to the scene and interviewed those involved but did not file criminal charges for 10 months.

    "I thought I did what was best to do," Jackson told lawyers. "I didn't even know nothing was over on that side. . . ."

    Jackson told the FHP investigator that his truck accelerated when he applied the brakes.

    Faulty brakes were one of many problems with the semi, said Assistant State Attorney Conrad Juergensmeyer, who is prosecuting the case.

    "That truck never should have been on the road," he said.

    Garrett Paquette said he noticed problems with the truck when it pulled into his Car Store Towing and Salvage shop in Minneola.


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    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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    Key trial issue: Truck's condition
    2 men died in June 2002 crash


    By Sherri M. Owens | Sentinel Staff Writer
    Posted May 3, 2005


    BUSHNELL -- Robert Lee Jackson Jr.'s tractor-trailer was in no condition to be on the rain-slick road when it plowed into a median and killed an Oviedo firefighter and a Winter Park doctor, a prosecutor told a jury Monday.

    "He was driving a tractor-trailer that did not have functioning windshield wipers," Assistant State Attorney Conrad Juergensmeyer told the jury in his opening statement. "Eight of the 10 braking systems on that truck failed, and it had several bad tires, some of which were bald."

    But Jackson's lawyer said the June 2002 incident was "a tragic, tragic, tragic accident" that her client did all he could to avoid.

    Jackson, 38, was in the right lane of Florida's Turnpike near Wildwood when heavy rain was forcing traffic to slow down. He told investigators that he moved to the left lane to avoid hitting another semi. Then, when a car suddenly slammed on brakes in front of him, he swerved toward the median.

    He had no idea that newlyweds were in the median, trapped in their pickup that had hydroplaned and flipped, his lawyer, Candace Hawthorne, told the jury.

    Firefighter Shane Kelly, 26, and obstetrician N. Donald Diebel Jr., 35, were among several motorists who had pulled over to help the couple when Jackson's tractor-trailer plowed into the accident scene, killing the two men and injuring six others.

    When Kelly's wife, Rachel, shouted at Jackson that he had killed her husband, he told her that he couldn't stop the truck, Juergensmeyer said.

    Attending the first day of trial were Rachel Kelly and her parents, Diebel's widow, Karen, and Diebel's parents.

    Jackson is charged with two counts of manslaughter by culpable negligence and six counts of culpable negligence leading to the injury of others.

    At first, prosecutors blamed the deaths on Mack Foster Gardner, 36, the man who they thought was driving the tractor-trailer. He was arrested in April 2003 and charged with vehicular manslaughter, culpable negligence and driving without a license.

    But the charges against him were dropped that December when Jackson said he had been the driver.

    Gardner was set free, and Jackson was picked up on an arrest warrant in May 2004 -- not for suspicion of causing the deaths by driving the truck but for suspicion of causing the deaths by not properly maintaining the vehicle.

    Jackson's lawyer, however, said her client did not commit a crime.

    She said she will present evidence this week that will show that the windshield wipers on Jackson's truck were operating and that he did everything he could to avoid a crash.

    "This all happened very, very quickly," she said. "The people in the tractor-trailer had no warning. No lights were flashing. The truck didn't see the accident until the last minute."

    When he tried to maneuver the truck away from the people in the median, Jackson found that "the grass was all wet and thick with water," she said. "The truck slid just as if it was on ice."

    Jackson faces up to 36 years in prison if convicted on all charges. He turned down an offer to plead guilty in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence.

    The trial continues today with Circuit Judge William H. Hallman III.

    Sherri M. Owens can be reached at sowens@orlandosentinel.comor 352-742-5915.


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    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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  5. #5
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    The Daily Commercial

    Officer: Most of trailer’s brakes did not function


    05/04/05
    JODIE MUNRO O’BRIEN
    Staff Writer

    BUSHNELL — An officer testifying in the double manslaughter trial of Robert Lee Jackson Jr. Wednesday said that only one axle on Jackson’s 18-wheeler was fully operational when he slammed into people on Florida’s Turnpike, killing two men.

    Officer Bill Jackson Jr. (no relation to the defendant) with the Florida Department of Transportation described several violations he found after inspecting Jackson’s 1996 Freightliner semitrailer following the June 8, 2002, crash on Florida’s Turnpike, just past the U.S. Highway 301 entrance.

    Some of the at least 24 violations were serious enough that they would have rendered the semitrailer to be considered “out of service” by federal standards until they were fixed, Jackson said. Most of the violations concerned the condition of the semitrailer’s brakes.

    Robert Lee Jackson Jr., 38, of Valdosta, Ga., is on trial this week in Sumter County Circuit Court, charged with two counts of manslaughter by culpable negligence and six counts of injury caused by culpable negligence after Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Jackson crashed his truck into Winter Springs obstetrician Norman Donald Diebel Jr. and Oviedo firefighter Shane Matthew Kelly. Investigators have said that Jackson’s semitrailer was in poor condition and that Jackson — who is self-employed — was aware of it, something they said contributed to the crash.

    Kelly, 26, Diebel, 35, paramedic Cindy Cornett from Georgia, nurse Celeste Niner from Gainesville and others had stopped to help a young couple in a pickup who had hydroplaned in the heavy rain, landing upside down in the median. They all stopped to help as they realized no emergency responders had arrived yet and they were worried the couple might drown in the puddles gathering from the storm.

    Moments later, Robert Jackson’s semitrailer ran into the median, hitting the pickup and the people helping the couple in the pickup. The semitrailer then hit a guardrail, then a third vehicle parked nearby containing Kelly’s wife Rachel, before hitting a second semitrailer driving on the turnpike, according to Cpl. Samuel Kight with the Florida Highway Patrol, who also testified Wednesday.

    In the DOT Driver Vehicle Examination report, Officer Jackson listed a number of “inadequate brake lining for safe stopping” violations on a number of the tires on different axles. At lease one axle was listed as having “inoperative or defective brakes” and two axles were listed as having “no brakes as required.” Other brakes were listed as being “out of adjustment.”

    Jackson said the motor vehicle inspection certificate displayed on the semitrailer’s cab stated the last inspection was in April, 2000.

    “Then I looked at the trailer. Any inspection sticker on the trailer was unreadable,” he told the jury.

    A number of the tires were bald, some with less than1/16th of an inch of tread on them. One had metal showing, Jackson said.

    When Jackson inspected the semitrailer the morning after the crash while it sat in a wrecker’s yard in Wildwood, he said he also found the windshield wipers to be inoperative. He said they did not move when he started the semitrailer, and he had to use substantial strength to lift one off of the windshield.

    Assistant State Attorney Conrad Juergensmeyer, who is prosecuting the case along with Assistant State Attorney Michael Lamberti, said on the right side of the semitrailer, three of the five brakes did not work.

    “It only takes one to not work to put it out of service,” he said.

    However, defense attorney Candace Hawthorne questioned whether Bill Jackson could tell if some of the damage to the semitrailer could have been caused by the crash.

    “Can brakes shift and come out of adjustment by hitting a guard rail or another tractor-trailer?” Hawthorne asked.

    Jackson replied it was possible, if the damage was in the area where the semitrailer made contact with the other vehicles involved in crash.

    Hawthorne also questioned why Jackson was never given a citation for the violations.

    “You didn’t issue Mr. Jackson a citation and never have,” she said. “Do you know whether or not these items existed previous to the crash?”

    “No,” Jackson said.

    Semitrailer passenger Gardner was arrested and jailed for almost nine months in connection with Kelly and Diebel’s deaths, before investigators said Robert Jackson confessed that he was the one driving the semitrailer. Gardner was released following the confession in December, 2003, police said. Jackson was arrested in Georgia in May, 2004, and extradited to Sumter County.

    In an interview with Florida Highway Patrol investigators the day of the crash, Jackson said he was driving to Valdosta after picking up the trailer in Minneola. He said he noticed another semitrailer ahead of him on the turnpike so was trying to slow down in the rain because he was afraid he was going to collide with it. Robert Jackson said he did not see the pickup wreck when he made the decision to pull his semitrailer into the median in order to miss the second semitrailer and to avoid “killing someone or myself.”

    “I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know I’d hit anything until the lady told me I’d killed someone,” Jackson said during the interview.

    The trial is scheduled to continue today in front of Judge William H. Hallman II.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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    The Daily Commercial

    Sumter court to hear highway deaths case


    05/02/05
    JODIE MUNRO O'BRIEN
    Staff Writer

    BUSHNELL — A man charged with the 2002 deaths of a doctor and a firefighter in Sumter County is scheduled to go to trial in Sumter County Court this week.

    Robert Lee Jackson Jr., 38, was charged with two counts of manslaughter by culpable negligence and five counts of injury caused by culpable negligence after Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Jackson crashed his truck into Dr. Donald Biebel and firefighter Shane Matthew.

    Florida Highway Patrol investigators said Jackson was driving a 1985 Peterbilt truck that crashed into Matthew and Biebel while they were attempting to help a couple whose truck had overturned on Florida’s Turnpike near Wildwood in June, 2002. Four others were also injured in the crash.

    Jackson was arrested in Georgia in May, 2004, and extradited to Sumter County from Lowndes County. Investigators said a tip from a Georgia truck stop led them to Jackson.

    Jackson said he lost control and could not stop in the accident; he also said he had been “wrongly charged.”

    Investigators said Jackson was aware that his truck was in poor condition. The condition of the truck contributed to the crash, police said.

    Another man had originally been charged with the deaths until Jackson told police he was the one who had been driving the truck, according to police.

    Truck passenger Mack Foster Gardner was arrested and jailed for almost nine months before Jackson’s alleged confession freed him in December 2003.

    If convicted, Jackson could face up to 15 years for the charge of manslaughter. Jury selection is scheduled to commence this morning.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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  7. #7
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    The Daily Commercial

    Tragic scene revisited


    05/03/05
    JODIE MUNRO O’BRIEN
    Staff Writer

    BUSHNELL — Karen Diebel yelled for her 5-year-old son to get on the floor of their minivan as she saw an out-of-control semitrailer headed straight for their vehicle.

    “It was coming so fast. I don’t know why it was going so fast. I screamed to Conor to get on the floor and I tried to climb to the driver’s side because I thought it was going to hit us,” Diebel tearfully testified in Sumter County court Tuesday during the second day of the trial of Robert Lee Jackson Jr., the man who said he was driving the semitrailer that day.

    Jackson, 38, is charged with two counts of manslaughter by culpable negligence and six counts of injury caused by culpable negligence after Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Jackson crashed his truck into Dr. Norman Donald Diebel Jr. and firefighter Shane Matthew Kelly, killing them and injuring others.

    Karen Diebel said at first she was not sure if the semitrailer hit the minivan at first.

    “Then everything just stopped. ... I told the kids I was going to get Daddy. I ran. I ran, and I saw a dead body. The first one wasn’t him, so I kept going. Then I saw Don. His shorts were ripped. I recognized them because I gave them to him for our anniversary a week before,” Diebel, 38, told the jury.

    Heavy afternoon thunderstorms on June 8, 2002, caused traffic on Florida’s Turnpike to slow almost to a crawl due to the lack of visibility. The Diebels had left their home in Winter Park and were taking their three sons to Georgia to visit Karen’s parents for a family vacation.

    However, when they arrived near the U.S. Highway 301 entrance to the turnpike, they came across a pickup that had flipped in the wet weather and was lying in the median surrounded by pools of water. Don Diebel, 35, insisted on helping the victims but told his wife to remain in the car.

    Conor, now 8, had unbuckled his seat belt and was watching his father help with the accident from the car. His brothers, Liam, then 3, and Nicholas, then 2, were watching a movie while in their car seats.

    Another vehicle pulled up behind the minivan, and off-duty Oviedo firefighter Kelly, 26, also ran to help with the car crash.

    Derek and Andrea Edstrom were hanging upside down in the pickup by their seat belts. They were on their way to Crystal River, returning from their honeymoon in Fort Lauderdale, when the vehicle hydroplaned and flipped.

    Although Andrea — who was in the passenger seat — was sore, neither seemed to be injured seriously, but emergency responders had not yet arrived and the driver’s side door was jammed.

    As Cindy Cornett, an off-duty paramedic on vacation from Georgia, Diebel and Kelly were struggling to open the passenger-side door, the semitrailer came barreling at them, causing bodies to fly through the air.

    Kelly had told his wife, Rachel, to remain in the car while he assisted with the accident.

    “Shane got out of the car and I went to get out of the car, but Shane stopped me and told me to stay there so I’d be safe. I took off my seat belt and called 911 on my cell phone, then turned to watch through the back window,” Rachel Kelly said.

    “I was watching my husband and all of a sudden a semi comes driving through and plows into them and I saw a couple of bodies flying through the air ... then it was headed straight for me and it hit me.”

    Rachel Kelly said the semitrailer was then blocking her view. Diebel, parked in front of Kelly, ran around the trailer and began screaming. Kelly ran around to where her husband of 6 years had been, and came upon the first body.

    “I wasn’t sure if it was Shane. You couldn’t tell,” Kelly told the jury in tears. She went to the other bodies, but returned to the first. “I saw the Oviedo Firefighters Union shirt and I knew it was him.”

    The Kellys had been on their way from their home in Winter Springs to Gainesville, where Rachel Kelly was about to take her dental hygienist exam.

    Cornett landed in a ditch, suffering ankle, arm and other injuries. Her husband, Jack, who was retrieving a first aid kit for her, was also injured. Derek Edstrom ended up with broken bones, and his wife suffered a broken neck and a broken back, but survived.

    Rachel Kelly said she soon saw two men exit the passenger side door of the semitrailer.

    “You killed my husband,” she said she yelled at one of them. “And he said ‘I couldn’t stop’ and all he kept saying was he couldn’t stop.”

    Semitrailer passenger Mack Foster Gardner was arrested and jailed for almost nine months in connection with Kelly and Diebel’s deaths, before investigators said Jackson confessed that he was the one driving the semitrailer. Gardner was released following the confession in December, 2003, police said.

    Jackson was arrested in Georgia in May, 2004, and extradited to Sumter County from Lowndes County.

    In an interview with Florida Highway Patrol investigators audiotaped the day of the crash, Jackson said he was driving to Georgia after picking up the trailer in Minneola, but that he had not seen the wreck in the median. He said he had been traveling between 55 mph and 60 mph and was starting to slow down in the rain when he saw traffic ahead of him almost at a standstill.

    In the tape, which was played in court Tuesday, Jackson said he saw another semitrailer ahead of him and was afraid he was going to collide with it. He said he made the decision to pull his semitrailer into the median in order to avoid “killing someone or myself.”

    “I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know I’d hit anything until the lady told me I’d killed someone,” Jackson said on the tape.

    Investigators have said that Jackson’s semitrailer was in poor condition and that Jackson — who is self-employed — was aware of it, something they said contributed to the crash.

    During her testimony, Karen Diebel said although the Edstroms were hurt, the scene and everyone assisting the couple were “calm” before the semitrailer slammed into everyone, turning the scene into chaos. A number of witnesses said they could not get a cell phone signal to call for help. Diebel ran back and forth from her minivan to her husband.

    “I was running to people and telling them my name and saying those are my children, and my husband is dead over there, can you please stay with my children. I need to be with my husband. Please don’t leave my children,” she said.

    Diebel repeatedly said on the stand that she did not understand why the two men — later identified as Jackson and Gardner — did not help anyone who was hurt.

    “They just stood there, like they were waiting for a bus,” she said.

    The trial is scheduled to continue in Sumter County Circuit Court at 8:30 a.m today.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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    Daytona Beach News Journal

    Man cleared in deaths of Good Samaritans
    Associated Press
    Last update: May 08, 2005


    BUSHNELL -- A trucker was found not guilty of killing two good Samaritans by crashing into an accident scene along Florida's Turnpike in 2002 -- but was immediately arrested on a perjury charge.

    Robert Lee Jackson Jr., 38, of Valdosta, Ga., was cleared by a jury Friday of manslaughter by culpable negligence and other charges.

    In previous sworn statements, Jackson said he was driving the truck that killed Oviedo firefighter Shane Kelly and Winter Park obstetrician N. Donald Diebel Jr. and injured six others near Wildwood, prosecutors said.

    On the stand Thursday, Jackson said the other person in the truck was driving.

    State Attorney Brad King said more perjury charges could follow. If convicted, Jackson could face five years in prison on each charge.

    "Our point today was just to do what we needed to so he didn't get out," King said.

    Investigators say Jackson told them he was driving the truck that rammed into Diebel, Kelly and the other rescuers. They were trying to help a Crystal River couple trapped in their Toyota pickup, which had overturned on the turnpike near Wildwood.

    Investigators have had a tough time determining who was the driver. The other man in the truck was arrested months after the accident, and was jailed for nearly nine months. But Mack Foster Gardner was released because of Jackson's alleged confession.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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    Default Cleared and then arrested

    Published Sunday, May 8, 2005
    BUSHNELL

    Man Arrested After Acquittal

    A trucker was found not guilty of killing two good Samaritans by crashing into an accident scene along Florida's Turnpike in 2002 -- but was immediately arrested on a perjury charge.

    Robert Lee Jackson Jr., 38, of Valdosta, Ga., was cleared by a jury Friday of manslaughter by culpable negligence and other charges.

    In previous sworn statements, Jackson said he was driving the truck that killed Oviedo firefighter Shane Kelly and Winter Park obstetrician N. Donald Diebel Jr. and injured six others near Wildwood, prosecutors said.

    On the stand Thursday, Jackson said the other person in the truck was driving.

    State Attorney Brad King said more perjury charges could follow. If convicted, Jackson could face five years in prison on each charge.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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    Default Acquital as man changes story

    Daily Commercial

    Jury acquits alleged driver


    Jackson said coworker was driving truck
    05/07/05
    JODIE MUNRO O'BRIEN
    Staff Writer

    BUSHNELL — After hearing emotional accounts of bodies flying through the air, wives finding their husbands dead and six other people injured after a semitrailer smashed into them, a jury found Robert Lee Jackson Jr. not guilty of all manslaughter and culpable negligence charges against him Friday.

    The verdict left surviving victims and family members of the two men killed in the accident wiping tears from their eyes, angry and scared for other motorists.

    “He needs to be taken off the highway. He’s going to be right out there driving with us again,” said Donald Diebel, father of Winter Park obstetrician Norman Donald Diebel Jr., who died in the 2002 crash. “It kind of destroys your faith a little bit in the justice system.”

    Rachel Kelly, 29, widow of Oveido firefighter Shane Matthew Kelly, 26, looked at the ceiling, then began crying as the verdicts were read, before running out of the courtroom in tears.

    Karen Diebel’s face remained expressionless as the verdicts were returned, while she sat between her husband’s father and his wife Cindy, clasping their hands. She, too, quickly exited the courtroom after the verdicts were read. Assistant State Attorneys Conrad Juergensmeyer and Michael Lamberti also shed tears.

    “I am disappointed for the victim’s families,” Lamberti said. Jackson, 38, of Valdosta, Ga., wearing a gray suit and still shackled at the ankles, began to cry as he was led out of the courtroom after being cleared of the charges of two counts of manslaughter by culpable negligence and six counts of causing serious injury by culpable negligence.

    Jackson remains in the Sumter County jail waiting to be extradited to Alabama, where he is wanted on unrelated grand theft charges, Juergensmeyer said. He also said he planned to charge Jackson with perjury for his testimony during this week’s trial. Diebel Jr., 35, was killed along with Kelly June 8, 2002, when the driver of a 1996 Freightliner 18-wheeler lost control on Florida’s Turnpike near Wildwood and crashed into them. They and six other people had stopped to help a young couple in a pickup that had flipped in the rain and landed upside down in the median.

    The six surviving victims all received multiple serious injuries. Registered nurse Celeste Niner of Gainesville said she was literally knocked out of her shoes as the collision knocked her from the ditch to the road. Andrea Edstrom, who was in the pickup, was OK until the second crash, in which she suffered a broken neck and a broken back.

    Jackson originally told police and prosecutors that he was the driver of the semitrailer the day of the wreck, but took the stand Thursday and said Mack Foster Gardner had been driving that day, not him. Gardner had originally been arrested but was released in December 2003 after Jackson told prosecutors he was the driver.

    On Thursday, Jackson said Gardner told him after the crash that his driver license was recently suspended, which meant he was no longer insured. Jackson said because he had insurance, he told investigators he was the driver. Gardner did not testify and Lamberti said he could not say Friday whether they would pursue Gardner.

    Juergensmeyer and Lamberti argued that Jackson was aware that his semitrailer was in poor condition and that the condition of the vehicle contributed to the crash.

    “No wipers working right, no brakes working right, into an overturned truck, into people helping the Edstroms coming home from their honeymoon,” Juergensmeyer said during his closing argument Friday.

    “That truck should never have been on the road that day. Never. It was a guided missile going down the highway.”

    “He testified he was three truck lengths behind a second semitrailer, going 55 in a pouring Florida rainstorm with only one good axle,” he said.

    However, defense attorney Candace Hawthorne said it was not possible to know if the tire, brake or windshield wiper problems existed before the crash, or if they resulted from the crash.

    In her closing argument, she told the jury there was no evidence presented that Jackson intentionally hurt anyone. She said although Jackson owned S & B Trucking, the company Gardner worked for, drivers of the trucks signed a contract accepting responsibility for the maintenance and insurance of their leased semitrailer.

    The contract signed by Gardner was stolen from Jackson’s office along with other files about the time he was arrested in May, 2004, Jackson said Thursday.

    Hawthorne blamed the crash on the weather and road conditions.

    “This case is a tragic, tragic accident and there is nothing that could have prevented it, unless, I don’t know, they could have put up emergency lights. They need to change the signs. They need to change the speed limit,” she said.

    “I wonder if that median had of been made of concrete instead of grass and dirt, if it would have been a better substance for trucks or cars to stop if they needed to get off the highway.”

    Hawthorne said anytime someone stops on the highway they put themselves at risk.

    “They placed themselves at risk and they did so willingly. Those people did a lot of good things and they were injured. The truck was attempting to go back on the roadway and not hit those people, but did because of the grass, mud and rain,” Hawthorne said.

    She said the road was covered with mud, causing the tires to not grip well. She also said the semitrailer also slid more than 200 feet on the wet grass of the median.

    “This case is not a culpable negligence case. This is a negligence case,” Hawthorne said.

    Cindy Cornett was a paramedic from Georgia and one of the first to stop to help the couple in the flipped pickup. She survived the crash, despite being sent flying through the air and receiving a shattered ankle and broken bones in her arm. Her husband, Jack, was also injured.

    On Friday Cornett said she has had 11 surgeries and expects more. She now works as a 911 dispatcher in Clayton County, Ga.; she is no longer physically able to work as a paramedic because of the crash. Cornett said she and other victims, although lucky to be alive, have also been severely affected by the wreck, physically, emotionally and financially.

    “Remembering there are six of us still alive who are suffering, as well as the wives, the brothers or the sisters, the mothers or fathers (of Kelly and Diebel), all our families were affected,” she said.

    “I want everyone to memorize (Jackson’s) face. Whether he was the driver or not the driver, he is negligent,” Cornett said as she wiped away tears.

    Rachel Kelly’s father, Bobby Beagels of Christmas, agreed. “He killed Dr. Diebel Jr. and he killed my son-in-law. In our book he did it whether he was driving or not.”

    “The man is a professional liar. He has been lying since the day of the accident,” he said.

    Cindy Diebel said her family is concerned for the safety of others.

    “He still has the opportunity to kill other people and conduct himself in a manner in which we would be embarrassed to do,” Cindy Diebel said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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