Witnesses recall crash

ESCANABA – The jury trial of a Gwinn truck driver, accused of causing the deaths of an Escanaba couple last year, continues into its third day of witness testimony in Delta County Circuit Court today.

Harley Davidson Durocher, 25, was driving a logging truck north on U.S. 2 and 41 and M-35 when he drove through a red light resulting in a three-vehicle accident at the intersection of South Hill Road in Gladstone on March 20, 2013.

Two people – Tom and Barbara Swift of Escanaba – died from injuries suffered in the accident. A third motorist – Joyce Scheriff, 72, of Gladstone – survived the crash.

Durocher is facing six felonies in connection with the deaths of Tom and Barbara Swift, each 73 years old. The maximum sentencing on each count is 15 years in prison.

The charges are as follows: two counts of reckless driving causing death; two counts of operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license causing death; and two counts of operating a motor vehicle with the presence of a controlled substance (marijuana) causing death.

Following jury selection Monday, the jurors heard opening statements from the prosecution and defense followed by witness testimony.

As of Tuesday, witnesses taking the stand included motorists at the scene of the accident including Scheriff, the defendant’s friend who was a passenger in the semi, the defendant’s girlfriend, a police officer, an accident reconstructionist, and a motor carrier officer.

Photographs and diagrams were entered as evidence during Tuesday’s court session. Witness testimony continues today.

Durocher was driving an empty logging truck for Roberto Logging of Gwinn when he drove through the Gladstone intersection and struck the Swifts’ Bravado which was pushed into Scheriff’s Malibu, according to Gladstone Public Safety, the investigating agency.

Both passenger vehicles were westbound when the crash occurred at 8:21 p.m. The Swifts were in the left turn lane while Scheriff was alongside them on the right, headed west on South Hill Road.

Ryan Larson, who was riding with Durocher at the time of the accident, testified Tuesday that prior to the truck leaving its loading site in Gwinn he conducted a “walk-around” to check the semi and a pup trailer after the spruce logs were loaded. He said a walk-around includes checking the brakes, lights, tires and tie downs.

The two brought the logs to NewPage Paper Mill in Escanaba. They were returning to Gwinn when Durocher downshifted on the highway as they approached a red light at the South Hill Road intersection, said Larson.

When the light turned green, Durocher picked up speed but then the light changed to yellow and then red, said Larson, remembering the tires locking up and screeching on the road. The truck “chattered,” he said, recalling the sound of the semi’s air-horn being pulled by Durocher.

“There was nothing else that could have been done (to stop the truck),” Larson said.

Sgt. John Bruno, an accident reconstructionist with the Michigan State Police, testified Tuesday that he investigated evidence at the scene including skid marks and gouges on the road. The truck’s skid marks measured 51 feet.

Bruno also documented the damages done to the vehicles, analyzed a crash sensor in Sheriff’s Malibu, and investigated the number of seconds the intersection light stays green, yellow and red.

During questioning by defense attorney Jim Howarth of Detroit, Bruno said the Michigan Department of Transportation made a time change on the stop light after the accident last year.

Bruno, who had no evidence showing the truck’s original speed, said the semi’s braking efficiency, or ability to decelerate, was below the minimum safety standards.

Based on eyewitness accounts and physical evidence from the road and vehicles, Bruno stated the driver “did not react until it was too late for the breaking ability of his truck.”

The last witness on the stand Tuesday was Eric Kessila, a motor carrier officer with the Michigan State Police, who inspected the semi truck after the crash. He said seven of the 14 total axles on the truck and trailer were in use the day of the accident.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net