GOSHEN — A Plymouth man’s trial for allegedly causing a fatal vehicle crash in 2016 has been pushed back to December as his new attorney tries to secure an expert witness.
Auston Masson, 24, faces two counts of causing a death while operating a motor vehicle with a controlled substance in his system. The Level 4 felony carries a punishment of up to 12 years in prison.
He was arrested in October 2016 and charged in the Feb. 24, 2016 crash south of New Paris. His passenger, 44-year-old Christopher Swihart, died following the head-on crash on S.R. 15, south of C.R. 50.
Blood tests allegedly showed that Masson had traces of a marijuana metabolite and amphetamine in his system at the time, and he was charged with one count per controlled substance. He told police he was on his way home from work when he lost control of his vehicle on the snow-covered road, causing his Honda Accord to collide with a GMC Sierra.
Swihart, who was one of Masson’s three passengers, was pronounced dead shortly after being taken to Goshen Hospital. Masson was treated at the hospital for an ankle injury, while the driver of the other vehicle was transported to the hospital for facial cuts.
Masson allegedly said he had used marijuana three days before the crash and the the only thing in his system at the time were two Advil pills. He allegedly admitted at the time of his arrest that he had taken some Adderall pills prior to the crash, for which he did not have a valid prescription.
Masson’s trial date has been postponed a dozen times since his arrest. On Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Michael Christofeno agreed to reset it again from Aug. 12 to Dec. 9, at the request of his lawyer.
Attorney Matthew Johnson said he’d like to do an accident reconstruction and the investigator he’s working with has been trying to find someone who can do it. Johnson was appointed as his lawyer in November 2018 after his original representative, Eric Kinsman, withdrew.
Elkhart County Deputy Prosecutor Ashley Fair remarked that it’s a four-year-old case but also acknowledged that Johnson has only been representing Masson for six months, so she didn’t object to continuing the trial again.
Christofeno asked Johnson how long it might take to find an accident reconstructionist, and observed that there’s a limited pool of such experts and they tend to be very busy. Johnson indicated they were finding that that was the case.
Christofeno also said it seemed like something that should have been done a long time ago.
“It seems like something prior counsel should have done right out of the gate,” he said.
Johnson agreed, and indicated it was a key part of their defense.
“There’s an argument on the issue of causation, and the only way to defend against it is with an accident reconstructionist,” he said.