Kenny Kemp/HD Media Morgan Vandergriff appears in Putnam Circuit Court on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019, for the beginning of his trial. Vandergriff is charged with first-degree murder in the 2018 death of John Maynard.

WINFIELD, W.Va. - A man accused of striking another man with his vehicle and killing him in 2018 claimed it was an accident.

Tuesday was the first day of the trial of Morgan Creed Vandergriff in the Putnam County Judicial Building.

Vandergriff is charged with one count of first-degree murder, accused of intentionally striking 38-year-old John Maynard and killing him on May 9, 2018, after Maynard yelled at Vandergriff for passing two school buses that were dropping off students in Ranch Lake Estates in Scott Depot.

Jury selection took the better part of the morning, and attorneys delivered their opening arguments just after 2:30 p.m.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer Scragg Karr said Vandergriff, 39, struck Maynard while driving his Chevrolet Cavalier after weaving past the school buses and that it was clear to Maynard's neighbors that he was dead as Vandergriff drove away to a friend's home to work on a lawn mower without stopping to check on "the man he had just knocked the life out of."

"He never lost control of that car," Karr said. "He never slammed on the brakes. He never jerked the car away from John Maynard, but instead in a calculating and deliberate manner, drove off the road into the driveway where the Edwards lived.

"This defendant mowed him down."

Vandergriff is represented by Brian Escue and Carl Hostler, who say Vandergriff did not intend to strike Maynard. Instead, Escue argued Vandergriff was caught off guard when he thought Maynard attempted to throw a beer at him.

Escue didn't deny Vandergriff struck Maynard with his vehicle. He said the evidence would support that, but he said no evidence shows Vandergriff intended to strike or kill Maynard.

"By us saying this is an accident, we are in no way downplaying John Maynard," Escue said. "By all accounts in the investigation, he was a loving husband, a father, a neighbor, and there's nothing we're going to say or do that will change that. ... The facts are, just because a good man passes doesn't mean a gentleman is guilty of first-degree murder. I'm saying that because it's emotion versus evidence."

At about 3:45 p.m. on May 9, 2018, Maynard was standing at the end of a driveway on Ranch Lake Boulevard talking to neighbors when the group saw Vandergriff illegally drive around two school buses, according to the criminal complaint filed in Putnam County Magistrate Court.

Vandergriff was driving away when witnesses reported to police that Maynard got off of an ATV along the side of the road and began to wave his arms and yell at Vandergriff.

Vandergriff ran off the right side of the road and struck Maynard, pushing him 20 feet from where he was standing, and killing him, according to the criminal complaint.

Vandergriff told a witness, who later talked to police, that a man on a four-wheeler had thrown a beer bottle at him, and he swerved to miss it, according to the complaint. Two witnesses told police Maynard had been holding a beer at the time of the incident, but he did not throw it at anyone.

Vandergriff has been incarcerated at Western Regional Jail since he was arrested May 9, 2018.

Reach Lacie Pierson at lacie.pierson@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1723 or follow @laciepierson on Twitter.


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