Trial for truck driver charged in Harford County crash that killed Klein's president, child set to begin Monday

·3 min read

Apr. 26—A New Jersey man who was driving a tractor-trailer involved in a 2019 crash that killed the president of local grocery store chain and a 7-year-old boy is scheduled to go to trial today in Harford County Circuit Court.

Carloo Everton Watson, 51, is charged with two counts of gross negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle, two counts of criminal negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle, and four counts of causing serious injury while using a cellphone in connection to the crash and deaths of Andrew Klein and Tripp Johnson.

Klein, 65, of Forest Hill, was the president of Klein's Family Markets — a division of ShopRite. Johnson was a second-grader at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon. Four other people were seriously injured in the multi-vehicle wreck.

A ShopRite tractor-trailer, driven by Watson, was traveling south on Route 24 in Bel Air at around 7 a.m. on March 11, 2019, when it crashed through a line of traffic at Ring Factory Road and burst into flames as it came to rest. The crash left a trail of debris at least a quarter-mile long, according to police.

Harford County State's Attorney Albert Peisinger said it is likely Watson's case will be heard by a judge and not a jury. Jury panels have not been scheduled for next week, though Watson's right to a jury trial has not been waived. If he does elect for a jury trial, Peisinger said the proceeding would likely have to be postponed.

An order from Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera allows Maryland courts to resume jury trials on April 26. Some proceedings in state courts have been restricted over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorneys for Watson could not be reached for comment.

Watson, who has spent 27 years as a trucker, turned himself in to police in Maryland within 24 hours of the indictment being issued by a grand jury in August 2019.

At a hearing a few days later, Watson was released on $375,000 bail pending trial. His attorney, Brian Thompson of the Baltimore law firm Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin, White, argued that his client's willingness to turn himself in to police showed that he was not a flight risk.

"This was a tragedy, but it was an accident," Thompson said at the August 2019 hearing. "[Mr. Watson] has demonstrated by his actions he has no intention of fleeing. If he wanted to, he could have done it a long time ago."

In a February 2020 hearing, Retired Judge Lawrence Daniels struck down a motion to move the trial out of the county, filed by Watson's attorneys. Thompson had collated and submitted over 100 news articles about the crash to the judge, arguing that the publicity of the trial — and the victim's profile in the county — were reasonable grounds to move the proceedings somewhere else because of issues selecting an impartial jury. He said every local judge had recused themselves from the proceeding.

Gross negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison with a $5,000 fine, while criminal negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of three years of incarceration with a $5,000 fine.

Causing serious injury while using a cellphone is a traffic offense that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail with a $5,000 fine.

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