The jury in the trial of a man accused of killing a 3-month-old infant while driving under the influence in broad daylight found him guilty of the death in the May 2018 crash.
Michael Maurice Ford, 50, was on the clock for work and driving drunk on his way to make an office furniture delivery at the College of Southern Maryland on May 7, 2018, shortly before 4 p.m. when he drove his Freightliner box truck into the back of a Jeep Wrangler. The Jeep, in turn, was pushed into a nearby Nissan truck.
Adults at the scene were treated for minor injuries, but 3-month-old Ethan Evans Ruefly, who was in the Jeep with his parents, was found barely breathing and unresponsive. Ruefly was airlifted for treatment, but died from his injuries at Children’s National Medical Center three days later.
Ford was found guilty Monday of grossly negligent vehicular manslaughter and vehicular homicide under the influence of alcohol, along with related charges of driving under the influence. He was acquitted of three charges related to failure to remain at the scene of an accident and render aid. He’s facing a 10-year sentence, according to the Charles County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Ford’s trial lasted all last week, and the closing arguments went well into Friday night. Deputy State’s Attorney Karen Piper Mitchell presented the closing arguments for the prosecution late Friday afternoon. She walked the jury back through the course of events, showing them photos as well. Ford was going 52 mph when he struck the back of the Jeep the baby was in with his parents that day, Piper Mitchell reminded them, and the severity of the impact of the large truck Ford was driving was evident in the crime scene photos.
At the scene, he was treated for his injuries, Piper Mitchell recalled for the jury, but Ethan wasn’t crying or responding to stimuli like needles. CPR and other outward measures kept “breathing for him the entire time,” she said.
Piper Mitchell also reminded the jury of Ford’s actions at the scene. He tried to flee on foot, she said, and after he was turned over to troopers, defecated himself before failing field sobriety tests that were administered. Ford, she said, blew a .24 BAC when they performed a breathalyzer check.
“You can’t drive that vehicle that way,” Piper Mitchell said. “[Ford] caused the death. That’s it.”
Public defender Derrick Johnson, one of Ford’s attorneys, contested Piper Mitchell’s version of events in his closing. He replayed videos from the scene that the jury had seen through the course of the trial, saying they painted a different picture of events than the one proposed by the state. Ford may have been scared to offer help, Johnson said, as the infant’s father Johnathan Ruefly had to be pulled off him shortly after the crash happened, putting him in fear of danger. Ford, he reminded the jury, “didn’t fight back” when confronted by the father. Rather, the videos from the scene show that his client was obviously “distraught” throughout the immediate aftermath of the accident.
Along with issues concerning the medical care Ethan received, Johnson also questioned the investigation conducted by state police, including raising questions of issues with the field sobriety tests done at the scene, which he said were conducted by a state trooper who was still in training and was not adequately supervised at the time. Further, Johnson said, Cpl. Zimmerman of the MSP failed to follow up on an email he received from a witness, and also gave conflicting accounts in the following investigation as to whether Ethan’s car seat was properly assembled.
From the start, Johnson said, he and public defender Cynthia Frezzo were “not fighting that he drank” that day. What they were contesting is Ford’s responsibility for the infant’s death.
“You are here for Mr. Ford, not for vengeance,” Johnson said.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Charles County State’s Attorney Tony Covington (D) said he was disappointed not with the verdict but with the relatively light sentence Ford will face.
“I am disappointed — but not with the jury,” Covington said in the statement. “The jury rendered a reasonable verdict, so I am fine with it. I am disappointed in the fact that this now convicted baby-killer is only facing 10 years — the maximum for killing someone while driving drunk — for this heinous crime. You can get 20 years for theft in Maryland but only 10 years for extinguishing a life — especially a 3-month-old child’s life. That simply isn’t right. It isn’t just. So, I’m disappointed in our lawmakers who refuse to fix this travesty by simply increasing the penalty for such crimes. I’m satisfied with the verdict but not the potential consequences for this terrible crime. The consequences are ridiculously light.”
Michael Beach, district public defender for Southern Maryland, took umbrage with Covington’s characterization of Ford and said in a statement the office intends to appeal on Ford’s behalf.
“While it might make for good politics to call someone a baby killer in the media, it doesn’t lessen anyone’s pain, nor does it reflect the reality of what happened in this case,” Beach wrote in an email. “Mr. Ford was acquitted of three charges carrying significant prison time, and the jury recognized that he didn’t attempt to flee the scene of this accident, despite the State’s continued assertions to the contrary. As our team argued at trial, Mr. Ford was at fault for this horrible car accident, but his actions did not cause the death of Ethan Ruefly. We respectfully disagree with the limits placed on Mr. Ford’s right to present his defense on this issue, and will file an appeal.” A sentencing date has not been set.