Day 2: Trial for Jacob Heil, former UK student charged in crash that killed Lexington 4-year-old, underway

Posted at 9:51 AM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 18:26:33-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A trial for a former UK student charged in a crash that killed a 4-year-old is now into day two of testimony.

21-year-old Jacob Heil is charged with reckless homicide and DUI. His trial began Monday in Fayette County Circuit Court. He's accused of killing 4-year-old Marco Shemwell, who was crossing a street outside a Kentucky football game in Lexington in 2018 when he was struck and killed.

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The reckless homicide trial for 21-year-old Jacob Heil began Monday in Fayette County Circuit Court.

During Tuesday's testimony, Marco's father, Ben Shemwell detailing game day morning for the jury. He says the family left the game early due to excessive sun and heat on their side of stadium. Marco was a fair-skinned child.

Mr. Shemwell says the driver, presumably Jacob Heil, got out of the vehicle. Shemwell couldn't determine if the car was going at a high rate of speed at the time.

During cross-examination, the defense team for Jacob Heil asks Mr. Shemwell about the incident and scene as well as about Mr. Shemwell being struck too.

The jury heard video testimony from a witness who was driving behind Heil. Paul Misback is a UK fan who left the game during halftime on the day of the crash. Hisback says Heil made an abrupt move, veered off the road, and made a quick maneuver to correct.

The witness says he was three car lengths behind the driver but "had a clear view of what was going on" and saw someone running towards the injured child.

Misback testifies that Cooper Drive is heavily traveled on UK Football game days and that anyone leaving that side is the stadium has to take Cooper to Tate’s Creek. That is the route that both Heil and Misback were taking at the time of the crash.

The witness corroborated Mr. Shemwell's testimony that Heil did get out of the vehicle after the incident.

Misback said that Heil did not appear intoxicated and that he was too far from Heil to say if he smelled of alcohol or not.

The Commonwealth's next witness is Lexington Police Department’s current Sergeant over the department's homicide investigators. Before that, he was a detective. On the day of the crash, he was working at the football game. He interviewed Marco's dad, Ben. Then he assisted in interviewing Heil.

In the recorded police interview, Heil tells investigators that he helped set up a tailgate that morning. He had gotten about two hours of sleep after staying up late to study.

Heil was at a tailgate all morning until it got shutdown by cops at around noon and said he had a couple of beers. Around kickoff, Heil was driven to a house because he was impaired, he tells investigators. He said he didn't feel impaired but knew he probably shouldn't drive at that time.

The Lexington police sergeant who was at the interview of Heil after the crash says he was visibly upset during the interview.

Commonwealth’s next witness is Lexington police officer Greg Marlin. He’s the unit coordinator for the collision reconstruction unit, which investigates crashes with life-threatening injuries or deaths. The unit investigates whether crashes involved criminal actions or criminal negligence.

Marlin described the different kinds of marks that can be left by tires, and the techniques investigators use to identify them. Marlin said all those techniques were used the day of the crash and no tire marks were found at that time — but photographs reviewed later showed some.

During the investigation of the vehicle Heil was driving, Marlin said a “cleansing mark” was found just inside the headlight on the passenger side. A cleansing mark is where direct contact with an object removes the dirt and “road grit” that accumulates on the front of cars.

Marlin testifies that “cleansing marks” are relatively common in cases involving vehicles that have struck a pedestrian.

Officer Marlin testifies that the “cleansing mark”, a dent on the hood and a broken mirror on the passenger side were the documented evidence on the car driven by Heil. Marlin said an area of pain Ben Shemwell had on his side matched height of the mirror.

Marlin is currently using a tape measure to show jurors the distance between a yellow line and white line on Cooper Drive. This is to show the width of the “travel portion” of a lane. Cooper Dr doesn’t have a shoulder, but there are about 6 inches on the outside of the white line.

Marlin tells jurors that an injury to Marco indicated was taking a step when he was struck. Marlin also tells jurors that Marco was likely 10 to 13 inches into the lane of travel when he was struck.

Marlin told jurors that the vehicle driven by Heil was outside the white line when the collision happened and that if it’d been in the center of the lane there’d have been “clearance” between the car and Marco. Commonwealth concludes their questioning of this witness

Heil’s defense is questioning Officer Marlin. Marlin says he would’ve expected evidence in the grass if Heil’s vehicle had left the pavement. There was none. Marlin previously said there’s about 6 inches of pavement outside the white line, about 4 inches of the white line itself.

Heil’s defense attorney is asking about how Heil’s speed (estimated between 33 and 36 mph) was calculated. He notes that the point of impact was used as part of the calculation and that the point of impact had to be estimated due to a lack of tire marks showing impact.

A little more about that tire mark — it was an arc that appeared to show a vehicle going out of the lane of travel, over the white line, then correcting back toward the center of the road, Marlin said.

Assuming that tire mark belonged to Heil’s car, the location where Marco ended up would indicate the point of impact would’ve been as the car was leaving the road or at the “apex” of the curve, not when the car was headed back to the center of the road, Marlin testified.

A man who was two vehicles behind Heil at when the collision happened said Marco’s father told those present not to let Heil “get away” after the collision. Heil then said “I’m not going anywhere,” according to the witness.

During opening statements on Monday, the prosecution said Heil was driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit when he struck Shemwell.

Heil's attorney, Christopher Spedding, says they agree that this is an "unspeakable tragedy" and that "everyone's heart is broken." However, Spedding argues Heil's car never went into the grass and that he was never an impaired driver.

Heil, who was 18 at the time of the crash, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.051, according to court records. The legal limit for those under 21 is .02.