DSU alumnus found guilty in vehicular assault case

 

DOVER — A 29-year-old Maryland man was judged guilty on all counts Thursday regarding a vehicle crash last year that caused several injuries during Delaware State University’s homecoming weekend.

Gregory E. Ligon, a DSU alumnus and former Hornets football player, was found negligent in actions that resulted in his vehicle careening out of control in reverse during a parallel parking attempt at 7:28 p.m. on Oct. 28, 2015.

Despite an attempt to hit the brake before impact, Ligon’s Mercedes Benz jumped a curb and traveled more than 120 feet in four seconds, clipping one tree and crashing into another, hitting bystanders along the way.

Concluding a bench trial that began Tuesday, Kent County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Young,found the defendant guilty of felony first-degree vehicular assault, misdemeanor second-degree vehicular assault (four counts), and driving under the influence of alcohol.

A pre-sentence investigation was ordered, and a sentencing date of Jan. 26, 2017 scheduled. The felony conviction could bring up to three years in prison, the misdemeanors one year each.

Gregory E. Ligon

Shianta Moore, 22, the most seriously injured victim, testified earlier and was in court for the verdict. She shared a long embrace with her mother immediately afterward, fighting off tears.

“I’m relieved,” she said. “It’s been a long road to reach this point. We’re not the only victims. I’m glad Judge Young brought justice in his decision.

“I’ll suffer for the rest of my life, so it’s good to know somebody recognized that.”

Through his attorney, Ligon and his family opted not to speak with media afterward.

Before declining further comment, defense counsel Joe Hurley described his reaction to the verdict as a “disappointment.”

Deputy Attorney General Zach George said, “Mr. Ligon caused more pain and suffering than he realizes and was arrogant enough to believe he did nothing wrong.

“He’s a felon now and I applaud the Court for finding him guilty.”

Driver created emergency

While concluding the incident was an accident on Ligon’s part, he was also negligent in driving while impaired, Judge Young reasoned, and over-reliance in a safety feature designed to put his car in park when a driver exits with the engine on.

Also, the Court found that the “consequences all could have been averted” if Ligon hit the brake instead of the gas pedal accidentally, an emergency situation he created.

In closing arguments in the morning prosecutor George argued that a Dover Police-administered .11 percent blood-alcohol reading from Ligon 2 1/2 hours after the incident indicated he was even more intoxicated during the crash sequence.

Mr. Hurley maintained no BAC was available for Ligon’s condition at the time of crash and there was no scientific way to show that. Negligence does not arise as soon as one sip of alcohol is taken by a driver, according to the attorney.

Mr. George questioned the validity of the defendant’s claim of a four-second blackout while in the car, but memory of before and after. If he did indeed go unconscious after hitting his head on the steering wheel, the prosecution said that was a situation Ligon had created by a series of negligent actions that stretched longer than just the crash time.

“That is self-serving and unbelievable,” according to Mr. George.

Also, Ligon did not read an owner’s manual with several warnings of a driver’s responsibility for it’s car’s movements despite all vehicle features, the prosecution argued. Mr. Hurley believed that it’s not unusual for someone to not read through a manual.

Reacting to reverse

Mr. Hurley said there was no erratic driving seen by witnesses when Ligon’s vehicle arrived at the scene and began to parallel park. The parking attempt was reasonable, according to counsel,

“[He] looked at a [vehicle] camera, saw people there, didn’t keep going, yell or hit the horn, he got out [to be prudent and safe.]”

There were “not signs of a person impaired and cognitively disturbed in his thinking process,” he said.

Mr. Hurley believed his clients “balance, speech, eyes, cognition, field test and demeanor” all pointed to not being under the influence of alcohol.

Also, according to the defense, Ligon’s reaction was instantaneous when realizing the Mercedes Benz was moving backward and “if he hadn’t been Jack Quick and jumped in the car when he saw it moving the door would have hit him in the back.”

Going in leg first was a reasonable attempt, Mr. Hurley noted, and Ligon’s foot missed the brake in a space of three inches in the dark. There was no opportunity for deep analysis of the brake and gas pedal positions in the time of emergency, Mr. Hurley said.

The steady actions before and after the incident indicated Ligon’s purported intoxication level did not affect his reaction time and ability to react to a dangerous situation, Mr. Hurley argued.

The prosecution believed that Ligon should have immediately realized his vehicle was accelerating and removed his foot, which maybe he would have “if he were sober,” Mr. George stated to the Court.

At one point, Mr. Hurley objected to Mr. George’s characterization of Ligon as being “drunk.”

Mr. George, however, pointed to Ligon’s nearly hour-long detention while handcuffed in a police vehicle before field tests were administered, and lack of reported injury as indicators of his seemingly steady state that belied any supposed unconscious moments.

Driver is responsible

Regarding a set of wide boots defense said could have contributed to touching the accelerator, Mr. George said there was still enough “room mathematically speaking” and Mr. Ligon experienced no difficulty making an approximately 80-minute drive from Bowie, Maryland that day.

Relying solely on the safety feature to put the vehicle in park was negligent on Ligon’s part, according to the prosecution. Mr. George believed the driver had “plenty of opportunity to fix the course of the vehicle,” which wasn’t surging out of control until he hopped back into the car.

There was no device in the vehicle that warned if the safety feature had failed, according to Mr. Hurley, and Ligon offered law enforcement opportunity to inspect the Mercedes Benz during the investigation.

Wondering why there was no “Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.” warning for a malfunction, Mr. Hurley believed the owner’s manual was a way for Mercedes Benz to protect itself from liability.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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