The driver in a crash that killed a Texas man in 2017 avoided jail time and a felony conviction at a plea hearing April 3 in Ozark.
Gary W. Grove, 66, pleaded down to a class A misdemeanor charge of failure to drive on the right half of the roadway in connection to the death of Julien “Skip” Vaughan Wayne III in 2017.
Per the terms of a plea agreement struck between prosecutors and Grove’s defense attorney, Circuit Judge Laura Johnson sentenced Grove to 180 days in jail. The sentence was suspended, and Grove was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation. He will have to serve 100 hours of community service.
Grove read a brief statement to reporters outside the courthouse in the moments that followed the hearing.
“I want them to know how truly devastated and sorry I am for the loss of their loved one. I know that their grief and pain they feel will continue, and I am very sorry,” Grove said.
Grove said the car accident that claimed Wayne’s life occurred because Grove suffered a medical episode while driving.
“This accident happened because of an unpredictable and inescapable medical emergency I experienced while driving that night. I had a pacemaker and a defibrillator put in my body two weeks later,” Grove said.
Wayne died June 11, 2017, following a two-vehicle accident on Selmore Road about two miles south of Ozark. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol crash report, Wayne was riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle southbound on Selmore Road at approximately 7 p.m.
At Grove’s plea hearing, Wayne’s longtime girlfriend was permitted to read a victim impact statement to the court.
“The love of my life was taken from me,” the woman said. “It was once in a lifetime, and now it’s gone.”
The Highway Patrol report stated that Grove was driving a northbound Cadillac vehicle that allegedly crossed the center line on the two-lane road and struck the motorcycle head on.
A Christian County grand jury issued an indictment on Oct. 27, 2017, about four months after the accident, alleging that Grove caused Wayne’s death by driving “with criminal negligence” on the wrong side of the road and “while exceeding the speed limit.”
Wayne was a resident of Fort Worth, Texas who was riding his motorcycle while vacationing in the Ozarks.
“He was not just some Texan passing through on the weekend. He was a vibrant and loving man,” the woman told the court in her statement.
Grove closed his eyes for extended periods as the woman read her statement. He also looked up and watched the woman’s face as she cried throughout her address to the judge.
“We packed a lifetime of memories into the four years we had together,” the woman told the court.
Grove lives in Rogersville and is a pharmacist, running his own pharmacies in Springfield. He said that thoughts of the accident come to mind every day.
“I think about it every morning when I wake up, during the day and when I go to bed,” Grove said. “It changed who I am, who I used to be with, my work and my downtime.”
Defense attorney Adam Woody explained how his firm worked to defend Grove against the initial charge of involuntary manslaughter.
“We were able to provide a lot of documentation, investigative records, including expert witness reports—we provided that to the state and it became abundantly clear that they were not going to be able to prove an essential element of the case, which is the negligence portion of the case,” Woody said.
Under Missouri law, a person who commits involuntary manslaughter when they cause the death of another person by acting with criminal negligence.
“In order to prove negligence, they would have to prove that Mr. Grove deviated from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use under the circumstances,” Woody said. “We’re happy for Mr. Grove that he is able to move on with his life at this point without the cloud of a potential felony hanging over his head.”
Grove also faced a civil lawsuit in connection to Wayne’s death. That lawsuit was settled out of court, and Grove and Woody both declined to discuss terms of the legal settlement.