Jacob Heil, 21, sat with his attorneys during his Lexington trial on reckless homicide and DUI charges.

Jacob Heil, 21, sat with his attorneys during his Lexington trial on reckless homicide and DUI charges.

Photo via WKYT pool video footage


A witness who was just feet away when 4-year-old Marco Shemwell was struck by a car told jurors in the driver’s reckless homicide trial Wednesday what she remembered.

Crystal Johnson, who was walking away from Kroger Field after leaving a University of Kentucky football game on Sept. 15, 2018, testified Wednesday that her family was behind the Shemwell family on Cooper Drive when Marco was hit. Marco died two days after he was struck. In addition to reckless homicide, Jacob Heil was charged with DUI.

The audio of Johnson’s 911 call was also played in court Wednesday.

Heil was driving on Cooper Drive when the Shemwells — Marco, 7-year-old Maximo and their father Ben — prepared to cross the street. The family was walking back to their car from the UK game, which they had left early, according to court testimony.

Johnson said she remembered watching as Ben Shemwell was holding Marco’s hand as the boy stood next to him. The two were at the edge of the road, right where the pavement meets the grass, Johnson said. But Maximo was farther back from the road, Johnson said.

Shemwell let go of Marco’s hand so he could get Maximo up next to him at the edge of the road, according to Johnson’s testimony. Then he turned back and grabbed Marco, attempting to pull him away from the road by his upper body, Johnson said. That was the moment Heil’s car hit Marco.

Johnson “screamed and just cried,” she said. “The dad started to pray, and I just prayed, too.”

While Johnson testified that the family was right at the edge of the pavement, Ben Shemwell previously testified that he and his sons were 2 to 3 feet from the road. He believed Heil’s car was headed right at them.

Johnson said she didn’t know if Heil’s car left the road. She said she also didn’t know if Marco ran into the road. Testimony from a Lexington crash investigator previously indicated that Heil left the lane he was driving in and veered over the white line at the edge of the road. But that investigator, Greg Marlin, also said there was no indication that Heil’s car left the pavement and went into the grass.

211013 ky lex cooper drive
There was a white “shadow line” in the area of Cooper Drive where 4-year-old Marco Shemwell was hit and killed. A police investigation indicated driver Jacob Heil crossed over the road’s white line when he hit Marco but didn’t drive into the grass.

Marlin also said his investigation indicated Marco was in the road when the crash happened, based on measurements taken of the damage on Heil’s car.

Johnson said she spoke to Heil after the crash and he was visibly upset. He began to cry shortly after the crash.

“I hugged him and told him to call his parents,” Johnson said.

Johnson told 911 dispatchers where the crash happened. Her first words to dispatchers were: “We’ve got an accident. Somebody hit a little kid.”

She said another child was crying in the background immediately after the crash, and Marco’s father could be heard praying.

Marco’s death was caused by blunt-force injuries, according to Dr. Lauren Lippincott, the state medical examiner who conducted his autopsy.

His head internally separated from his neck, Lippincott said.

Marco suffered fractured vertebrae, hemorrhages and brain bleeding, according to Lippincott. He also had severe scrapes and bruises all over his body, according to autopsy photos shown in court Wednesday.

Lexington officer: Heil seemed impaired after the crash

The Lexington police officer who arrested Heil on a DUI charge said he showed signs of intoxication on multiple field sobriety tests.

Officer Brandon Muravchick said Heil showed signs of impairment when asked to do an eye test, a “walk and turn” test, and a “one-leg stand test.” He also made errors when Muravchick asked him to list a portion of the alphabet.

211013 ky lex muravchick
Lexington police officer Brandon Muravchick testified Wednesday during Jacob Heil’s trial. Muravchick said he determined Heil was intoxicated. Heil’s car struck 4-year-old Marco Shemwell who died two days later.. Photo via WKYT pool video footage

Muravchick saw “six out of six” signs of impairment in Heil when doing horizontal and vertical eye tests, he said.

He said he saw less severe signs of impairment in the other physical tests.

Muravchick wrote in his report that he could smell alcohol on Heil and that Heil had bloodshot, watery eyes. Heil didn’t have slurred speech, according to Muravchick’s report.

Bodycam video from Muravchick’s interaction with Heil was played in court Wednesday. The video showed portions of the sobriety tests and also some of the remarks Heil made to Muravchick. Heil told the officer he had two beers around 9:30 a.m. that day.

Muravchick acknowledged that the video wasn’t perfect — the position of the camera caused it to repeatedly get obstructed by Muravchick’s arms. Heil was also out of the camera’s frame during certain parts of the tests.

The final witnesses in Heil’s case testified Wednesday morning and afternoon. Jurors visited the crash site for about 20 minutes after testimony ended.

Closing arguments from the defense and prosecution is set to begin Thursday morning, followed by jury deliberations.

This story was originally published October 13, 2021 4:01 PM.

Jeremy Chisenhall covers breaking news for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com. He joined the paper in 2020, and is originally from Erlanger, Ky.

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)




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