Ex-EL school bus driver found not guilty of criminal charges
EAST LIVERPOOL — A prosecution witness said he left the first jury trial of 2020 “dumbfounded,” after a city man who was formerly employed as an East Liverpool school bus driver was acquitted on OVI and child endangering charges.
The jury of five men and four women (one of which was an alternate) acquitted Donald W. Goodwin on Wednesday after a day of hearing testimony and deliberating.
The East Liverpool school district terminated Goodwin almost two weeks after he was arrested on-duty for OVI and child endangering while transporting the boys varsity basketball team.
It was the first jury trial for Judge Dominic Frank, who spent the majority of the day clad in a mask, much like his jurors and courtroom audience. He did remove his during his initial court instructions at the beginning of the day, and so did the attorneys and witnesses when they had to do extensive talking to assure they could be heard.
Also as recommended by pandemic protocol, instead of putting the jurors in the jury box, they were scattered six feet apart in the first row of the audience and throughout the jury box.
Judge Frank explained to jurors that the prosecution had the burden of proof to prove Goodwin’s guilt instead of Goodwin’s defense proving his innocence through presentation of direct and circumstantial evidence, which holds equal weight.
For the prosecution, two East Liverpool High School basketball coaches, the district superintendent, a city police captain and a former city patrolman were called to testify, while Goodwin did elect to testify in his defense.
Judge Frank informed jurors they were to be fair and attentive through the trial, thus he wouldn’t be permitting them to do notetaking as they may find it too distracting.
During opening statements, Prosecutor Abby Minamyer explained that life was about choices, and she went on to detail Goodwin’s choices that brought them here today and urged the jurors to choose to convict.
Goodwin’s defense attorney, Joe King, acknowledged his client was driving the bus but said there was plenty of evidence to dispute the witnesses’ statements and perceptions of the incident that occurred the day Goodwin was to drive the team to Carrollton. He urged jurors to “keep an open mind” before both sides introduced the 40-minute on-bus video as a joint exhibit at the start before taking a lunch break.
On the audio, one could catch one of the adults on board, asking Goodwin if he was all right, after he seemed to have difficulty negotiating a curve safely near Bradshaw Avenue.
After the junior varsity coach, who was sitting immediately behind him and was downwind as he had the window open, noticed something was amiss, the coaches eventually relayed that they needed Goodwin to pull over at Westgate complex to pick up another of their players.
Realistically, it was just a reason to get him off the road into somewhere safe, as one coach explained that he was not feeling safe for him, his colleagues or his kids. During his testimony, jayvee coach William Miller explained that he had noticed that Goodwin was out of sorts and got a whiff of beer as he sat behind him.
Judge Frank did overrule defense objections in relation to Miller’s methodology to diagnosing Goodwin was intoxicated; however, when it came to saying Goodwin was too intoxicated to drive, Judge Frank agreed with the defense.
“It is not an easy trip to Carrollton,” Miller explained regarding the winding roads. “I didn’t feel safe … to continue with that trip.
As a result, Miller had texted head coach Nate Conley, who was sitting across the aisle at the front of the bus and expressed his concerns, and in turn Conley contacted Superintendent Jonathan Ludwig.
Miller said he had talked to the youth without revealing his concerns but under the guise that they would need to wait at Westgate for another player. Ludwig and transportation director Tammy Reed, met them at Westgate and replaced Goodwin with another driver.
On cross-examination, King inquired if Miller was so concerned about his safety, why they didn’t pull the bus off at Giant Eagle or Rite Aid, which was much closer to the curve in question instead of sending a “groggy” Goodwin to Westgate. Although Miller referred to Westgate as the “safe place” in question, he never really dealt with the question.
School administrators and police later testified regarding their decision to take Goodwin to East Liverpool City Hospital, where Goodwin reportedly failed field sobriety tests and tested below the .07 BAC but above the .04 limit for commercial drivers.
A blood sample was .075 BAC.
The defense had little to say when exiting the courtroom, except to offer a thumbs up after the verdict was read.
It is unknown what this means for the future of the dispute between Goodwin or the school district, who had hired him in July 2018 as a driver and dismissed him several weeks after the incident.
This had been Goodwin’s first OVI offense arrest.