Trial begins for man accused in crash that killed Lexington toddler

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 10:29 AM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The trial for Jacob Heil began Monday in Lexington.

The 21-year-old was charged with reckless homicide in 2018 following a crash that killed 4-year-old Marco Shemwell.


Police say Shemwell was crossing a street with his family outside a UK football game when the crash happened.

Heil, who was 18 at the time, had a blood alcohol level of 0.051, according to court records. The legal limit is .02 for those under 21. The DUI arrest report says Heil left a tailgating event before the collision on Cooper Drive.

Last year, during court hearings, Judge Lucy VanMeter granted the defense motion to allow jurors to visit the crash of the scene. Heil’s attorneys argued that a scene visit would allow the jury to reach a fully informed verdict.

Jacob Heil
Jacob Heil(WBKO)

The Commonwealth’s attorneys objected to that decision, arguing there are photos and videos that more accurately depict the scene.

Both sides agreed to limit the postmortem pictures used during the trial.

Judge VanMeter also ruled the state could not use photos of Shemwell’s shoes unless prosecutors use them to emphasize facts, like how visible the boy was, not to garner an emotional reaction from the jury.

During opening arguments, the commonwealth’s attorney said Heil was at a fraternity tailgate party right before the crash. Heil was pleading Alpha Tau Omega. He and another pledge were supposed to keep the tub of beer full. The prosecutor said Heil had some drinks at the party.

Shortly after, they explained, Lexington police shut down the party because it was “huge, there was loud music, and underage drinking.”

Prosecutors said Heil later drove his car to get lunch with two other members of ATO. After dropping off one of the members, Heil was headed back to his dorm when he made a left on Cooper drive. They said moments later, he hit Marco Shemwell.

Prosecutors said Marco was standing near the side of the road with his father and older brother. They explained the car drug Marco’s body a distance form where they three were standing.

A few days later, the 4-year-old boy died from his injuries.

The commonwealth’s attorney explored why Heil should’ve charged and the defense described the incident as an accident and said Marco walked into the road.

“All of those facts will prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that Jacob Heil is guilty of reckless homicide,” the commonwealth’s attorney said.

“I tell you what didn’t occur, what didn’t occur was a crime,” the defense said. “This was an accident. In an instant, lives were changed.”

Marco Shemwell’s mother also took the stand on day 1 of the trial, explaining what her husband told her right after the crash.

“He just said, ‘we’ve been hit. Marco was hit bad. We just need to pray,’” she said.

Officers who were at the scene and an alcohol expert also got on the stand.

Later on, we were supposed to hear from witness who saw the crash and the pledge who was in Heil’s car at the time of the crash. However, the trial was adjourned until Tuesday morning.

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