A man accused of aggravated vehicular homicide was found guilty Thursday afternoon.
After spending much of the afternoon in deliberation, a jury of seven men and five women found Matthew Coleman guilty of aggravated vehicular homicide by reckless driving and driving under the influence in the death of 14-year-old Daniel Ahlers on June 6, 2020.
Before the verdict was read, District Judge Stuart S. Healy III asked those in the audience to remain in their seats and refrain from any emotional outbursts, recognizing that “this is a highly charged, emotional time for the families” on both sides.
After the verdict was read and the jury was dismissed, family members on both sides of the case were crying in the hallway.
In Wyoming, aggravated vehicular homicide carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
While on a “joy ride” with five teenagers in his truck June 6, 2020, Coleman’s pickup flipped over near the corner of Burma Avenue and Metz Drive, killing Daniel.
The prosecution argued that Coleman’s actions, including driving while drunk and driving in an unsafe manner, led to the rollover crash that resulted in Daniel’s death.
Coleman’s attorney, Steven Titus, argued that the truck’s accelerator had been inadvertently pressed by Coleman’s daughter, Sage, who testified Thursday that she’d bent down to pick up a cologne bottle when she accidentally pressed on the gas pedal.
Sage, 15, said there was a bottle of Calvin Klein cologne in a cupholder in front of the middle seat, where she was sitting during the crash.
She said her father kept a cologne bottle in the truck because he was a smoker and he would spray himself with cologne so that he wouldn’t smell of smoke when he went to work.
She testified that her brother Colton hit it with his knee, causing it to fall on to the floor near the driver.
Coleman asked Sage to pick it up, so she leaned down and grabbed it with her right hand. When she tried to get back up, she hit the steering wheel with the back of her head. She was knocked down, and she fell on the accelerator “pretty hard.” She felt the truck jolt at that time, and it lost control.
She said she was briefly interviewed by a police officer the night of the crash, and that she didn’t say anything about the cologne bottle because “I felt like I caused the crash.”
Colton had told a police officer that he’d dropped an item near his dad’s feet, according to that officer’s testimony.
The defense’s expert witness, Jodie Immell, repeatedly said she could not rule out that someone had inadvertently pressed on the gas pedal.
Deputy County Attorney Nathan Henkes said that with that same line of thought, Immell can’t rule out that the crash was caused by a bee that flew into the truck and stung Coleman, or from someone running across the street right in front of the truck.
Titus said there was no testimony that contradicted Sage’s version of events. She was the only witness who mentioned the presence of a cologne bottle.
No one from the police department followed up with Sage or Colton, Titus said. If they’d conducted a thorough and complete investigation, this trial might not even be necessary, he added.
Henkes pointed out that Coleman isn’t a tall person, and showed the jury a picture of the truck, where the driver’s seat was pulled close to the steering wheel. He asked the juror whether they thought Sage could’ve fit underneath the steering wheel while Coleman was in the driver’s seat.