Trial Held for Fendler in Tyler County Circuit Court
Cole Fendler, 33, of 121 Warner Street, Marietta, Ohio, has been found guilty of one count of fleeing in a vehicle with reckless indifference, and one count of reckless driving. This comes after a trial was held Feb. 19 in Tyler County Circuit Court.
The morning began with the process of jury selection. The potential jurors selected from the pool of citizens summoned, then went through a process called voir dire where the judge and lawyers asked them a series of questions. Following this process, certain members of the potential jury were then called into the jury room in order to discuss matters privately.
As a result of these questions, five members of the potential jury were dismissed due to familiar connections with those involved or relating to the case. Judge Cramer then read the names of the 12 selected members of the jury, and dismissed all other potential jurors.
Following a 10 minute recess, the court reconvened with an opening statement given by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Rachel Cornell, who was acting as lead counsel on behalf of the State of West Virginia.
Cornell explained to the jury that Fendler was a man with no regards to law enforcement or anyone traveling within Tyler County. Then she began to explain what happened on June 22, 2018. According to Cornell, Lieutenant Shannon Huffman executed a traffic stop on June 22, and Deputies Tammy Satterfield and Mason Rine acted as back-up. During this traffic stop, Huffman reportedly smelled marijuana. While Huffman was retrieving his K-9 from his cruiser, Satterfield reported that Fendler was reaching under himself. As a result of these actions, Satterfield attempted to open the passenger side door. However, it was locked. She then tried the driver’s side door, and discovered it was locked as well.
Following this discovery, Fendler left the scene, although officers never gave him permission to do such. Huffman and the two deputies chased Fendler in their own vehicles, reportedly at 80 miles-per-hour.
It was explained that Deputy Bryan Owens heard the incident over the radio, and waited for Fendler to approach his location. Owens turned on his lights in an attempt to get Fendler to pull over; however, Fendler continued driving. Owens then began pursuit of Fendler on Route 2, reportedly going 109 miles-per-hour.
Given these facts, Cornell said she was confident the jury would find Fendler guilty.
Fendler’s attorney Frank Walker then delivered his opening statement. Walker reinforced that Fendler was still presumed innocent. Walker explained the defense did not dispute that Fendler fled from the scene or that he was driving recklessly. However, Walker said there was no evidence showing Fendler was driving with reckless indifference. It was said Fendler calmly turned himself in, and therefore Walker asked that the jury listen closely and find Fendler not guilty for driving with reckless indifference.
Cornell then called for her first witness – Lieutenant Huffman. This witness explained that the traffic stop took place around 10 p.m., outside of Sistersville city limits. Huffman said he saw a black Ford Fusion pass by, and the driver had a cell phone in his hand. Huffman reported he then followed this driver to an area where the speed limit is 30 miles-per-hour, and this particular driver was going over 50 miles-per-hour.
Huffman explained he had activated his vehicle’s lights and sirens, and Fendler pulled over as soon as he was able. Huffman said he approached the driver’s side and, while collecting Fendler’s identification, reportedly smelled marijuana. After processing the identification, Huffman returned to the car and advised Fendler of the smell before asking permission to search the vehicle. Fendler declined; however, Huffman asked Fendler to shut off his vehicle and roll the windows up within three inches. Fendler complied, and Huffman returned to his cruiser to collect his K-9.
Huffman reported that as he was in his vehicle to get the leash, Satterfield yelled out that Fendler was reaching under himself. The lieutenant explained this is a safety issue as they didn’t know what Fendler was reaching for.
At this time, Satterfield began trying to open the doors of Fendler’s vehicle. The deputies and Huffman reportedly shouted at Fendler to open the doors, but he did not comply. After this, Fendler started his vehicle. Although the officers were instructing him “don’t do it,” Fendler still did not comply.
Huffman reported that Fendler revved his engine before pulling out onto the road. This action caused the officers who were standing close to the vehicle to be pushed into the roadway.
It was also reported that before Fendler fled the scene, Deputy Rine had his service weapon drawn on the passenger side of the car. Rine was reportedly asking Fendler to show his hands.
When asked if there was any traffic on the roadways when this event occurred, Huffman explained that there was a red water bottle truck driving in the same direction as Fendler.
Huffman then explained that after Fendler fled the scene, all three officers got in their cruisers and pursued him going south on West Virginia Route 2. It was said it was a rainy day, and that road conditions were wet and slick. However, the officers reportedly were forced to travel between 80-90 miles-per-hour in order to follow Fendler. Huffman said Fendler had to have been going faster than this, as he was far ahead of them.
At this, Walker objected on speculation, but Judge Cramer allowed the statement.
Huffman explained he was traveling at roughly 90 miles-per-hour and still was unable to keep up with Fendler.
Huffman also told the jury that while driving at these speeds, Fendler passed seven to 10 vehicles, including water bottle trucks. It was said Fendler was passing south bound traffic in the face of north bound traffic.
After hearing the incident over the radio, Deputy Bryan Owens was instructed to wait for Fendler near Momentive, and he began pursuit after Fendler drove by his location. Owens reportedly kept Huffman and the deputies informed, and told them he was traveling at 109 miles-per-hour.
Huffman told jurors that all four cruisers had their lights and sirens on, and that there were multiple areas where Fendler could have stopped.
At this point, Owens reported to fellow deputies that Fendler had turned onto Arvilla Road, which Huffman described as a narrow road. Huffman explained he was unable to witness anymore as he was unable to keep up, due to the high speed and road conditions. However, Owens reported he lost sight of Fendler as well, and was ordered to turn back.
Huffman and the deputies had then begun a discussion on where Fendler could have gone.
Pleasants County law enforcement was reportedly aware of the situation and had sent officers out in search of Fendler. However, it was reported that the West Virginia State Police were ultimately responsible for Fendler’s arrest on Mount Carmel Ridge Road.
Cornell then asked Huffman how many car accidents resulting in fatalities happened on Route 2 during his career, to which Huffman answered at least five or six.
Walker then began questioning Huffman.
Huffman was asked by Fendler’s attorney to clarify if he smelled marijuana when conducting the traffic stop on Fendler, to which he said that he had and that it smelled fresh. However, Walker pointed out that there was no drugs found on Fendler or in his vehicle. Fendler was also never charged with possesion. Walker then confirmed with Huffman that Fendler followed the orders directed at him.
Walker also asked Huffman if he talked with Fendler while executing the traffic stop. Huffman reported he held a conversation with Fendler on where he was going and where he had been, and – once he saw his ID – questioned him about Facebook posts from a few years previous.
Huffman explained while Fendler lived in Florida years before this incident, he had made threats against Huffman’s life. The lieutenant said that these posts were concerning, and he had contacted the prosecuting attorney’s office about it at the time.
Walker then provided a report given by Huffman on the June 22 incident. Walker asked Huffman to confirm it was his report, and Huffman explained it was a detailed narrative he had made. However, Walker told the jury that in the detailed report there were no mentions of the conversation held on the Facebook posts.
When asked if any officers had their service weapons drawn, Huffman said that only Deputy Rine had drawn his.
Walker then told the jury that no complaints or reports were taken from passing vehicles, and officers did not recover any drugs or firearms from Fendler’s vehicle. Fendler was also not under the influence at the time of his arrest.
Huffman was asked how he knew Fendler was driving with reckless indifference, and he told the jury when he first stopped Fendler, there was no damage to the car. However, after Fendler was arrested, it was said there was significant damage to the passenger side. Walker told the jury that because no pictures were taken of Fendler’s vehicle beforehand, there was no proof the damage was done during the chase.
When Cornell was given the chance to redirect, Huffman told her the pursuit happened quickly and he didn’t have time to get the license numbers for the water bottle truck or any other vehicles passing. He also said that it’s not standard procedure to take photos of vehicles at traffic stops.
When Cornell asked Huffman why he didn’t mention the Facebook posts in his report, he explained that he didn’t find it relevant to the investigation.
Cornell then called her second witness: Deputy Satterfield. Satterfield confirmed Huffman’s report, adding the deputies were all in uniform at the time. She also said no threats were delivered to Fendler, and he was not given permission to leave the scene. When he fled, Satterfield said she was forced to jump out in the road in order to avoid getting hit by Fendler.
During the chase, Satterfield said she was driving behind Huffman and she also lost sight of him due to his high speeds.
When asked, the deputy also explained that Rine only drew his service weapon after she had reported that Fendler was reaching under himself.
Cornell then called for her third witness: Deputy Rine. Rine reported he was on the passenger side of the vehicle during the traffic stop. He said he drew his weapon for officer safety after seeing Fendler reach under himself. Rine reported he asked for Fendler to show his hands, and also urged Fendler “not to go,” after Fendler had started his vehicle.
As a result of traveling behind Satterfield, Rine could only occasionally see Fendler. However, he reported he saw Fendler pass in no-passing zones. Although he wasn’t aware of how fast they were traveling, he said he saw little of Owens due to high speeds.
Walker confirmed Rine was traveling three cars behind Fendler, and asked how he was positioned when he drew his weapon. Rine told the jury that he was on the passenger side, but that he moved towards the front of the car for officer safety.
At this time, Judge Cramer ordered the court a five minute recess in order for video evidence to be set up.
Following the recess, Cornell called Deputy Bryan Owens to the stand. Owens explained that he was on road patrol on the south side of Route 2 on the night of June 22 when he heard of the incident over the radio. He confirmed he waited for Fendler’s vehicle to pass, and explained that he turned his lights on beforehand in an attempt to stop Fendler. However, Fendler failed to stop, and Owens reported he was traveling at 109 miles-per-hour and was still unable to keep up with him. Owens told the jury the speed limit on Route 2 is 55 miles-per-hour and on Arvilla Road – where Owens eventually lost sight of Fendler – it’s 25 miles-per-hour.
However, Owens reported his dash cam recorded the event. He explained only he had access to the video, and that the video downloads onto a SD card, which he gave to Huffman. The dash cam recording was then submitted to be shown to the jury.
After viewing the video, Owens confirmed the video had not been doctored.
Walker told the jury the video shows that the drivers of passing cars are not concerned.
Following this, the court was given an hour recess for lunch before reconvening at 1 p.m.
At this time, Cornell called her next witness: Corporal W.G. McCullough with the West Virginia State Police. McCullough confirmed he assisted Tyler County Sheriff’s Office with the arrest of Fendler, saying he received a call from dispatch about the incident. He reported that road blocks were set up on Route 2; however, he drove up Mount Carmel Road. McCullough explained that about four miles out on this road, he encountered Fendler going about five to 10 miles-per-hour.
When Walker questioned him, McCullough said Fendler had his hands out the window. When McCullough approached him, Fendler reportedly questioned if he was in Pleasants County. When McCullough said he was, Fendler calmly turned himself in.
Following this testimony, the counsel approached Judge Cramer. Judge Cramer then instructed the jury to return to the jury room as legal matters needed to be discussed.
Walker made a motion to make the charges a misdemeanor instead of a felony offense. Cornell argued that the offense should still be considered a felony as the manner in which Fendler was driving created risks. Walker agreed there is proof of reckless driving, however said that there is no proof of reckless indifference.
Judge Cramer denied Walker’s motion as a result of the video evidence provided and because of witness testimonies.
At this time, the jury was brought back into court, and Walker called on Fendler to testify on his behalf. Judge Cramer explained to Fendler that he was not under obligation to give his testimony and that by doing so he was waiving his right of silence, and that he was subject to cross-examination. Fendler assured Judge Cramer that he understood.
While giving his testimony to the jury, Fendler said he understood the charges, and admitted that he did commit the crime of fleeing in a vehicle. However, he said it was not with reckless indifference.
Fendler told the jury he lives in Saint Marys, but on June 22 he was in New Martinsville bailing his brother out of jail. According to Fendler, after being pulled over, all three officers approached his vehicle with guns drawn. When Huffman first made contact with him, he asked Fendler if he knew who he was. After Fendler told him he didn’t know him, Huffman allegedly began talking about the Facebook posts, which Fendler said lasted a fair amount of time. It was only after he questioned why he was pulled over when the normal proceedings of a traffic stop commenced, Fendler explained.
Fendler also said the officers had their service weapons drawn for the entirety of the traffic stop, and the officers made derogatory comments to him.
He went on to explain that when Satterfield first called out that he was reaching for something, Fendler put his hands up. However, Fendler said she continued to “scream.”
Fendler told the jury he never hit anything or anyone during the chase, and the damage Huffman noticed was caused by a boat trailer months before. He then explained he fled the scene due to feeling unsafe in Tyler County with the officers conducting the traffic stop. Fendler said he feared for his life, and thought that they might shoot him.
Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee then asked if he filed a complaint against Huffman and the deputies involved. Fendler said he did before he was detained.
Fendler also told the jury that he doesn’t believe that he was going 109 miles-per-hour as his car doesn’t go that fast. It was his belief that he was only traveling at 90 miles-per-hour down Route 2, and confessed he did pass other vehicles during the pursuit. However, Fendler did not recall a water bottle truck. He also admitted he knew that his actions created unsafe conditions and that it could have resulted in the injury of himself or others.
Fendler said although the officers did not physically harm him, they threatened to shoot him. As a result of these threats, Fendler reportedly laid down on the center console before driving away.
Following Fendler’s testimony, Judge Cramer sent the jury to the jury room, ordering them not to discuss the case or anything involving it.
Judge Cramer and the counsel then began discussion on the charges against Fendler, before coming to an agreement: the jury would be offered the charge of a felony offense of fleeing in a vehicle with reckless indifference. If they found Fendler not guilty of this charge, they could then find him guilty for a lesser charge of the same nature.
In order to get paperwork for this change, the court entered into a 30 minute recess.
Upon return to the courtroom, counsel was asked to review paperwork; all parties were satisfied with the change.
Judge Cramer then instructed the jury to act on and consider all of the given evidence when making a decision on the innocence or guilt of Fendler, as opposed to acting on opinions. They were also given instructions on how the remainder of court would proceed.
Cornell then delivered her closing statement. She explained again the events that took place on the night of June 22, and told the jury there were clear verbal and visual signs from the officers to Fendler to stop. She told the jury Fendler endangered the lives of the officers and all those traveling on Route 2 due to his speed and the road conditions. She then asked all members of the jury to find Fendler guilty on the charge of fleeing in a vehicle with reckless indifference and reckless driving.
In Walker’s closing statement, he said the officers’ testimonies were “too perfect.” He told the jury there were no complaints issued from other drivers; there were no 911 calls about this event; there were no drugs or firearms recovered from Fendler or his vehicle; no skid marks were found on the route Fendler took, and Huffman never mentioned his conversation about the Facebook posts in his detailed report. Walker also explained Fendler was never charged with possesion of drugs or firearms, or for texting while driving. He said Fendler had reason to fear for his life, and therefore traveled to Pleasants County. In his conclusion, Walker told the jury Fendler was guilty of fleeing in a vehicle and reckless driving, but asked them to find Fendler innocent on the charge of fleeing with reckless indifference.
Following Walker, Furbee told the jury that Fendler’s case was a simple one. He explained driving at those speeds with the road conditions as they were was reckless, and that he didn’t have a right to endanger all travelers as he did, even if it was only to get what he thought was a “fair trial.” Furbee also said other drivers wouldn’t complain as they saw officers in pursuit of Fendler, and pointed out that while Fendler said he wanted to get to Pleasants County, he turned onto a side road. Furbee told the jury that Huffman and the officers were simply doing their job. He explained they never fired their weapons, even when Fendler fled. Instead, they gave chase.
At this time, the jury went to deliberate on a verdict.
Upon returning, the jury reported they had reached a unanimous verdict. The jury found Fendler guilty for one count of fleeing in a vehicle with reckless indifference, and guilty for one count of reckless driving. When Judge Cramer asked each member of the jury if this was their verdict, they all answered positively. Following this, Judge Cramer thanked the jurors and excused them.
Furbee then made a motion to revoke Fendler’s bail, which was set at $50,000. However, Walker asked that it be continued.
Judge Cramer allowed the bond to continue due to the large amount required, and that Fendler made his appearance at all court hearings. Judge Cramer then ordered a pre-sentence investigation to determine Fendler’s sentence. He told Fendler he would be required to get that investigation set up. Judge Cramer ordered Fendler to stay in touch with Walker’s office and to contact the bond office. He then told Fendler he was free to go.