BOONE COUNTY — In a rare move, a Boone County judge has dismissed three reckless homicide charges against a Michigan truck driver accused of causing a deadly crash Jan. 5 on Interstate 65 in Whitestown.
Records show semi-truck driver Matthew Small filed a motion to dismiss back in February. On Friday, Oct. 2, the judge granted the motion to dismiss.
Small had argued his actions on the road were not reckless that day, however, prosecutors felt otherwise.
Small told police he was driving northbound on I-65 near the 129 mile marker and looked away from the road to set his coffee mug down when he ran into slowing traffic, according to a release from the Boone County Sheriff's Office. Authorities believe Small collided with eight vehicles as he drove through the back-up.
Mariah Tomey, 21, Kaden Kirk, 19, and Hadley Tomey, 1, died in the crash. All three victims resided in Lebanon.
Judge Bruce Petit said there was not enough evidence Small committed a crime.
“The Court would be remiss if it did not acknowledge the horrible tragedy which occurred the morning of January 5, 2020, in Boone County,” wrote Superior Court 2 judge Bruce Petit in his decision handed down October 2. “This Court’s heart goes out to the victims and their families for the devastating losses. However, the fact that a horrendous result comes from an individual’s actions does not alone support the prosecution of criminal charges.”
Judge Petit said, “this accident was, it was just that, an accident caused by the Defendant’s negligence but not criminal conduct."
Small’s defense attorney Todd Meyer, a former Boone County prosecutor, said it is rare for a judge to dismiss a criminal case upon a defendant’s motion.
“On behalf of my client, I can say that he is relieved by the court’s ruling, but the court’s dismissal of his criminal case does not dismiss the pain he feels in his heart for the families who lost their loved ones,” Meyer said in an email to WRTV. “The Court’s ruling was the right thing to do as the Court followed the rule of law and dismissed the case because no crime had been committed. This situation was an absolute tragedy and Mr. Small has been devastated by it and struggles on a daily basis to cope with his sadness and the sadness felt by everyone involved.”
Meyer said the location of where this accident occurred is “extremely dangerous.”
The state is making improvements to the area near mile marker 130 after people complained it often gets congested.
“I am glad to see the State is finally taking remedial measures at this highway exit to insure an accident like this doesn’t happen again, it should have taken such action years ago,” Meyer said.
Boone County prosecutor Kent Eastwood said his office is reviewing the court’s order to determine what action, if any, should be taken next.
They could possible re-file charges against Small if they find additional evidence of a crime.
“As part of that review, we will meet with investigators to determine if there is additional evidence not previously presented to Court,” Eastwood said in an email to WRTV. “The Court’s ruling does not preclude the State from re-filing this matter if it is able to present additional sufficient evidence in support of criminal charges. Any individuals or businesses referred to above should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at trial or by guilty plea.”
A Boone County jury trial scheduled for Matthew Small on Nov. 17 was canceled, records show.
Small is facing a civil lawsuit filed by the State of Indiana and the Indiana Department of Transportation.
INDOT is asking Small to pay $5,059 for the repair and restoration of its property including the guardrail on I-65, which was damaged because of Small’s “reckless, careless, and negligent acts.”
No hearing date has been set yet in the civil suit.
WRTV Investigates found Small, of West Grandville, Michigan, had also been cited for his driving several times in Michigan, records show.
In 2002, Small was convicted of reckless driving in Branch County and received a $325 fine and six months of probation.
In 2004, he was cited for driving on a suspended licensed in Branch County and pleaded no contest, and was sentenced to a $200 fine.
Both the 2002 and 2004 incidents involved Small driving a passenger vehicle, according to the Branch County court.
In 2013, Small was involved in a crash in a passenger car and was cited for failing to stop within assured clear distance, according to Small’s Michigan driving record.
Also in 2013, he received a speeding violation for going 45 mph in a 35 mph zone in a car, Michigan records show.
In 2014, Small received a driver improvement letter from the state of Michigan, which is correspondence that warns drivers of unsafe driving habits.
Also in 2014, Small was cited for failing to stop while leaving an alley or private drive while driving a pickup truck, records show.
In 2015, Small was cited for speeding in Michigan after he was involved in a crash in a passenger car.
No one was hurt in the 2013 or 2015 crash, Michigan state records show.
In 2017, Small was ticketed for speeding in the Grand Rapids area in a passenger vehicle.
In May 2019, Small was cited for speeding in a commercial vehicle while in Ohio, according to his driving record.
A former co-worker of Matthew Small says she was concerned about his driving habits and tried to warn supervisors.
Robin Michelin, an over the road truck driver of 20 years, said she worked with Small at Grand Rapids, Mich. company MNST LLC.
Michelin said Small started with the company in the spring of 2019.
“He was damaging our equipment,” Michelin said. “He flattened two sets of tires, which could mean he was following too close and locked up his brakes.”
As WRTV Investigates reported, in May 2019, Small was cited for speeding in a commercial vehicle while in Ohio, according to his driving record.
Small also received an infraction in Carmel on July 8, 2019 for following too closely in a truck.
According to the USDOT number on the Carmel traffic ticket, Small was working for MNST at the time he was caught following too closely.
Michelin said Small was working for MNST when he received both of those violations, and she raised concerns to management.
“When we get drivers in here who don’t care how they drive or how they treat the equipment, we don’t need people like this driving for this company,” Michelin said.
Michelin said at the time, the company was just starting out and had a small number of employees.
“When he’s damaging equipment that we are actually renting, we told our boss to get rid of him,” Michelin said.
Michelin said Small was eventually fired.
WRTV Investigates was unable to reach MNST management for comment, and Small declined to speak with WRTV.
Small went on to work for VL Trucking based out of Dubuque, Iowa.