November 28, 2014

Elyria
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Teen cleared in 2012 fatal crash

ELYRIA — A 19-year-old girl facing vehicular homicide and negligent assault charges for a fatal car crash two years ago has been acquitted.

In a ruling Wednesday, Lorain County Juvenile Court Magistrate Steve List wrote that prosecutors failed to prove that Laniqua Lusane was responsible for the Feb. 27, 2012, crash, which claimed the life of 16-year-old Alexandra Clifford.

Prosecutors had argued that Lusane, who was 17 at the time, was speeding before she lost control of the 1999 Ford Escort she was driving on state Route 2.

But defense attorney Mike Duff said Lusane wasn’t responsible because Clifford, who was riding in the front passenger seat, had grabbed the wheel when the car veered onto the rumble strips on the side of the road and that caused the crash.

List concluded that by grabbing the wheel, Clifford effectively became the operator of the vehicle.

He wrote that “but for the unexpected and unwanted input from Clifford, which radically altered the path of the vehicle, there is nothing before the Court which proves that the vehicle became uncontrollable on this stretch of roadway due to its speed.”

List also wrote that the car crashed 1.1 to 1.5 seconds after it began its “fatal slide” and thus Lusane couldn’t have overcorrected if she tried to regain control of the Escort.

“Therefore it was not possible to have physically prevented this vehicle from suffering its fate, as there was insufficient time to provide for such a correction,” List wrote.

Although Ohio Highway Patrol troopers estimated the car was travelling between 70 mph and 82 mph, above the posted speed limit, there is no evidence that speed would have prevented efforts to regain control of the car, List wrote. He also wrote that the tire marks left by the vehicle didn’t indicate that there had been an effort to steer out of the slide.

After the Escort went off the side of the road, it hit an embankment and went airborne, striking several trees. Lusane, Clifford and Tyrell Hicks and Lucius Johnson, who had been riding in the back, all were injured, but only Clifford’s wounds proved fatal.

Duff said List made the right decision clearing his client.

“That case never should have been filed,” he said. “There was not a scintilla of evidence that she caused the accident. The decedent was the direct and proximate cause of the accident and there was no doubt about that. Unfortunately, she lost her life due to horseplay.”

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he was still reviewing the decision and couldn’t comment.

The verdict wasn’t a complete victory for Duff, who had asked List to declare that assistant county prosecutors Jay Grunda and Adam Bryda had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by coaching witnesses.

During the trial, Johnson testified that prosecutors had told him not to bring up the wheel grab when he took the stand. Duff said it appeared that prosecutors were improperly trying to hide the key piece of evidence in the case.

Will has denied that allegation. He has said Grunda and Bryda were trying to explain that they weren’t going to bring up the issue of Clifford grabbing the wheel, but that Johnson and Hicks should tell the truth if asked about it by Duff.

Will also has said it’s implausible to argue that prosecutors were trying to hide evidence since Duff and List had been given a police report detailing the wheel grab.

Duff said it’s not a matter of not telling him about the evidence, but rather an attempt to tamper with witnesses to win a case.

“There’s a big difference between failing to disclose exculpatory evidence and what they did in coaching,” Duff said. “They purposefully told them to mislead the court.”

Duff said he feels he has an ethical obligation to file a disciplinary complaint against Grunda and Bryda. Such complaints are confidential and Duff said he couldn’t discuss the matter further.

Will said Duff should take whatever action he deems appropriate if he believes there was misconduct.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.


  • newofsl

    Another unethical move by an unethical Prosecutor and his cronies!They need to get rid of all of them and get some people who actually have some integrity to do the job.Will absolutely has none and I don’t know how he has kept his job!!!

    • Reset

      Because no one ran against him.

      • newofsl

        I hope someone honest runs against him who is qualified and will do the right thing in our justice system which often is no justice at all.

  • Steven

    If the driver was doing the “70 to 82mph” the troopers determined, that speed (greater than the posted speed limit) directly contributed to the outcome, so isn’t there at least contributing fault there? I guess it can’t be proved that had she been going slower the outcome would not have been the same.

    • me101

      Not if the wheel was grabbed..the outcome may have been different.

  • SpaceTech

    Most all prosecutors but not every one are inherently personally flawed by either seeking “trophy” cases or by being overzealous to win at any cost so in the future when they inevitably run for a higher office they can pull out their list of accomplishments.

    • Reset

      Well said, I have no faith in the judicial system anymore its all a horse and pony show with the victim being the one on trail at the cost of someones ever inflated ego. (EASY GOD OUT)/

  • me101

    I think the right decision was made. Good luck to this girl in her future. I wonder how many cases Grunda and Bryda have coached the witness? If this is true, our justice system does not work. Good for Michael Duff, I hope he follows through.

    • Tomas Pane

      Silliness. Not the outcome of the actual trial. But the hype and buzz. The system worked exactly as it was designed to do. The police and state thought that her speed contributed to the girl’s death and she was charged, pleaded not guilty, acquired defense counsel and forced the state to prove the charge. The magistrate was present as arbiter, to establish and ensure fairness and to listen to the witnesses and arguments.
      In our system, the state has its job: prove what the police charged. It’s common sense to advise their witness that they (the prosecutors) are not going to ask a question that they already know that any defense attorney capable of reading simple English was going to ask. That’s not their job. That’s the defense attorney’s job.
      What is the state’s job, however, is to advise their witness to tell the truth if and when asked by the defense attorney. Strange as it sounds, it’s the epitome of integrity within the adversarial confines our constitution envisioned. I think. The article reads that the state did its job by providing the defense attorney with a copy of the police report. Here’s the report. Here’s why we charged your client. Read it. See you at trial. That’s fair. The defense attorney read the very same police report which said the dead girl grabbed the wheel while the car was speeding. Everyone in that courtroom knew that question was going to be asked and knew it would be answered truthfully.
      The real story is Duff’s grandstanding. As a commoner fond of our constitution, I feel it discredits the integrity of our constitution and makes me think of Saul. Not Saul, the first king of Israel, but the Saul of the “Better call Saul” character in “Breaking Bad”. The sleazy, but irritatingly charming defense attorney for America’s number one stateside meth maker and mexican drug cartel, was a man, like Duff, who understands his limitations. By most acceptable standards we could probably guess that neither ‘Better call Saul’ nor Duff are geniuses. They do however understand the basics about getting ahead at any cost and taking advantage of the situations of others. It’s what he does. Sadly, it’s what humanity is prone to. In many ways, he just can’t help himself. In “Breaking Bad” Saul couldn’t help himself from being Saul; he did what he did by hook or by crook, playing within, but mostly outside the rules and the audience and the plot of show loved him for it.
      If you pick up a snake and it bites you, should you be surprised, or, be called foolish? That’s a question I’m sure the magistrate and state are now scratching their heads over.
      If my cursory review of this sites’ last three months of articles is correct, there’s been a major rumble or two between judge Burge and the prosecutor’s office, judge Burge and bci and the attorney general’s investigations, and now most recently, burge and the judges versus the commissioners.
      Is Duff pulling his own ‘better call Saul’ move and trumpeting the call of justice by alleging the prosecutor’s office was unethical toward him (even while the very same justice system acquitted his client as it should’ve). The real and most interesting question is the why and when Lorain county’s very own ‘better call saul’ tossed these allegations around. For starters it’s good pub and beats renting out bus stop benches and cheap billboards. And it keeps his street cred strong. But more importantly, it looks like he’s ingratiating himself to a certain someone that’s been producing, directing and starring in their very own sitcom/legal/tragi-drama we citizens have had to read, pay for and stomach for months and now years. In our Saul’s world, that’s a show worth auditioning for. And it’s good business.