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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Two Birch Tree teens in court for involuntary manslaughter

Friday, March 16, 2012

Two years and a day after a Thayer teen died in a head-on crash on Highway 160 near Alton, two Birch Tree teens attended a preliminary hearing to determine whether they will face involuntary manslaughter charges in court.

Before a courtroom of about 20 family members, 37th Judicial District Associate Circuit Court Judge Don Henry said the court finds "probable cause a felony was committed."

Defendants William Heilman and Ely Dotson, both 19, appeared with their attorneys Jacob Garrett and Travis Holthouse.

Heilman and Dotson were 17 when they were accused of causing the death of Meghan Honeycutt, 16, of Thayer by playing "crisscross chicken" in front of the USDA building on Highway 160. The cars they were driving crashed together at more than 50 miles per hour, according to witness testimony.

Honeycutt was ejected from the car and died at the scene. Honeycutt's twin sister, Morgan Cotham, was critically injured in the crash.

The preliminary hearing lasted nearly two hours, with Cotham taking the stand first. Now 18 and married, Cotham said she recalled little of the crash or the following two weeks when she was in a Columbia hospital.

"I remember seeing headlights," Cotham said. "I don't remember much after that."

Cotham testified that she and Honeycutt spent time that day walking around a mall in West Plains, before meeting Heilman and Dotson at Quick Connection convenience store in Alton near 10 p.m. March 5, 2010.

Heilman got into the driver seat of the Toyota Celica the Honeycutt girls were in, as evidenced by surveillance video taken at the convenience store. Dotson, in an Oldsmobile Alero, drove first out of the parking lot, followed by Heilman driving the Honeycutt vehicle about 8 minutes before the crash.

Questioned by Oregon County Prosecutor Fred O'Neill, Cotham said she did not know how fast the cars were going when they hit, just that it seemed "fast." Cotham also did not know if Heilman and Dotson talked about playing chicken.

According to reports, Dotson told authorities he was not playing chicken, and that he swerved to the left when he saw Heilman's vehicle in his lane. He did not swerve to the right because he feared hitting utility poles, Dotson told investigators.

During expert testimony, it was revealed that no utility poles are on the side of the road that Dotson indicated.

About 45 minutes after the 1 p.m. hearing began, reserve Oregon County Deputy Sam Barton testified about being first at the crash scene. Barton said Dotson and Cotham were trapped in their cars and Heilman was walking around in the middle of the road dazed. At the scene, Heilman said only he and Morgan were in the Toyota, Barton said.

The Honeycutt's mother, Lisa Honeycutt, wept as Barton testified that he did not realize Meghan Honeycutt was in the ditch about 4 feet from the Toyota. More than 15 minutes elapsed before other emergency workers discovered Honeycutt's body, according to Barton's testimony.

Later in the hearing, it was learned that Cotham initially told troopers that Meghan was driving the Toyota, which led to troopers to list Meghan Honeycutt as the driver on the original crash report.

The last expert witness to take the stand, Missouri State Highway Patrol crash reconstruction expert Cameron Heath testified that no evidence existed to indicate the crash was a random accident.

"Neither vehicle took evasive measures," Heath said.

Heath said the weather was good the night of the crash, the road was in good condition and neither vehicle had mechanical problems. None of the occupants were wearing seat belts, he said.

"My findings are that this was not an unintentional act," Heath said.

Heilman and Dotson will be arraigned on second-degree manslaughter charges at 9 a.m. April 2 in Alton.

Both are out of custody on $2,500 bond.

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