Driver says he tried to avoid crash

ESCANABA – The truck driver who was involved in a fatal accident last fall testified Wednesday that he did all he could to avoid the crash, but there was not enough time to stop after the traffic light turned yellow.

Harley Davidson Durocher, 25, of Little Lake, took the witness stand on his own behalf Wednesday afternoon. He is charged with six 15-year felonies in connection with the deaths of Escanaba residents Tom and Barbara Swift.

Durocher was driving an empty semi with a trailer on March 20, 2013, when he drove the truck through a red light on U.S. 2 and 41 and M-35 at South Hill Road in Gladstone and caused a three-vehicle accident.

The semi collided into the Swift’s vehicle and killed Tom Swift, 73, the driver. Tom’s wife, Barbara, 73, died from her injuries four days later. A third driver, Joyce Scheriff, 72, of Gladstone, was treated for injuries at the local hospital and later released.

Following investigation into the crash, Durocher was arrested on May 31, 2013, and lodged in jail in lieu of a $100,000 bond. Bond was later reduced and he posted $2,500, or 10 percent of a $25,000 bond, and was released from jail on June 28.

He is accused of causing the deaths of the Swift couple while, according to the charges, he was driving recklessly with a suspended drivers license and with the presence of THC (the active compound in marijuana) in his body.

Durocher testified Wednesday he drove the truck from Gwinn to NewPage paper mill in Escanaba where a load of spruce logs was unloaded. On the return trip, as he drove toward the intersection at the highway and South Hill Road he saw a green traffic light turn to yellow then red and back to green.

Durocher said he accelerated for the green light and then the light quickly changed to yellow. From where he was from the intersection, he said, “There was not enough time to stop a truck.”

He testified he used both the brake pedal and the engine brake to try to stop the semi before entering the intersection.

“I figured I wasn’t going to make it,” Durocher told the court, saying he tried to do everything he could to warn people; he veered to the left, laid on the air-horn and continued to brake.

When questioned about his speed, he said, “I was paying attention to stopping the truck… I don’t honestly know how fast I was going.”

Durocher said he felt he did everything he could have done to stop the semi but could not avoid driving into the intersection.

“There was nothing else I could do,” he stated.

The prosecution and defense questioned Durocher about phone records which show texting on his phone from 8:03-8:22 p.m. on the night of the accident. Gladstone Public Safety was dispatched to the scene at 8:21 p.m. immediately after the crash.

Durocher said he was not using his cell phone while he was driving.

According to phone records presented in court, texting messages were being sent between Durocher’s phone and the phone of his father, David Durocher, who testified he could not recall texting his son at that time.

Regarding the charge of operating a motor vehicle with the presence of a controlled substance causing death, a forensic scientist testified Wednesday that tests determined there was THC in Durocher’s blood.

Durocher testified he did not smoke marijuana the day of the accident but admitted he has smoked pot in the past.

The Gladstone Public Safety officer who was dispatched to the accident and who interviewed Durocher at the scene, testified the truck driver did not appear to be under the influence of a narcotic drug.

During the defendant’s cross examination, County Prosecutor Steve Parks questioned Durocher about his drivers license being suspended prior to the accident.

Durocher replied, “It was but I did not know.”

When Parks asked if Durocher’s truck driving training taught him that it’s the driver’s responsibility to be satisfied the brakes are working and the truck is operating safely, Durocher agreed.

Testimony presented earlier in the week showed the brakes on the truck were working at 50 percent efficiency. Ryan Larson, who was a passenger in the truck while Durocher was driving, testified Tuesday he had checked the truck in Gwinn prior to the trip to NewPage.

During questioning Wednesday, Durocher said he had driven the truck for Roberto Logging about 20 times. He said the brakes have worked in the past and were working on the day of the accident.

In addition to other witness testimony on Wednesday, the jury watched an animated simulation of the collision. Jurors visited the intersection in Gladstone later that afternoon.

The attorneys’ closing arguments are expected to take place in court today with jury deliberation to follow.

The jury will be instructed to decide on verdicts for the following charges: 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.

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