Judge finds Welch not guilty in Watson boy’s death

The acquittal of the Watson man charged with negligent homicide for running over and killing 6-year-old Tyler Myers, sparked an angry outburst from the child’s father Friday outside the courthouse.

The boy’s parents, Jamie and Ericka Myers, walked out of the courtroom immediately after 21st Judicial District Judge Bob Morrison ruled that Brad Welch, 33, was not negligent when he hit Tyler with his truck as the boy lay in his driveway on Sept. 24, 2012. The boy later died at a hospital.

Prosecutor Greg Murphy argued in court that Welch likely was intoxicated during the accident, in addition to talking on a cellphone while driving.

But Morrison, in giving his verdict, said conflicting testimony from two toxicologists — one enlisted by the state, the other brought in by the defense — about Welch’s blood-alcohol content level at the time of the incident was enough to cast doubt on Welch’s guilt.

Ericka Myers walked away to grieve following the verdict, but her husband vented his frustrations to reporters waiting outside the Livingston Parish Courthouse.

“How can someone be drunk, drive, run over a 6-year-old boy in broad daylight and get away with it?” Jamie Myers asked before unbuttoning his short-sleeved, button-down shirt to show a T-shirt with his son’s picture printed on it.

Then, Myers passed by a small crowd of Welch’s family and friends and began arguing with them.

It was unclear what specifically started the confrontation, but Myers eventually began shouting at the group.

“How many children does Brad have to kill before he’s done?” Myers yelled.

After a few more verbal jabs from both sides, Myers stormed off toward his vehicle. The group of Welch’s family and friends involved in the argument drove off before they could be interviewed by reporters.

The showdown punctuated a third day of tense testimony in a trial spread out over two months because of procedural delays.

The death of Tyler, a student at North Live Oak Elementary School in Watson, led to a large candlelight memorial at Live Oak Ballpark — the place where a medical helicopter had retrieved the injured boy and taken him to a hospital on the day of the accident.

Welch was not cited initially, but Livingston Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested him Oct. 10, 2012, on a count of negligent homicide.

A Livingston Parish grand jury declined to indict Welch in January 2013, but the 21st Judicial District Attorney’s Office filed charges against him about a month later.

On Friday, family and friends of Myers and Welch packed the tension-filled courtroom. As usual, much of the Myers clan donned yellow, Tyler’s favorite color.

Morrison’s verdict led to audible murmurs of frustration from the Myers family. Members of the Welch contingent hugged each other and cried in relief.

The Myerses’ exasperation spilled out of the courtroom and into the street, where the confrontation erupted.

“Brad’s lying on the stand,” Jamie Myers shouted in reference to Welch’s testimony about his level of intoxication.

Murphy, the prosecutor, said after the trial that he respectfully disagreed with Morrison’s decision.

“I still believe he (Welch) was over the legal limit, but that was my opinion,” Murphy said.

Welch declined to speak to reporters after the trial.

Michael Thiel, Welch’s attorney, said afterward he thought the judge made the right decision based on the reasonable doubt.

“Nobody wins in this case,” Thiel said somberly. “The judge, he had the hardest job in the courtroom.”

Inside the courtroom, Murphy and Thiel sparred Friday over whether a toxicology report commissioned by Thiel was biased in Welch’s favor.

Welch testified Friday that he finished drinking a plastic cup of wine at home before leaving at 5:45 p.m. to pick up his daughter from dance class. The accident happened about 6:20 p.m.

Murphy contended Welch was lying about the time because he had told deputies the day of the accident that he had left at 5:15 p.m.

Thiel argued that the report completed by Jimmy Barnhill, the prosecution’s toxicologist, was flawed because Barnhill had assumed Welch drank the cup of wine earlier in the day and that his body would have absorbed more of the alcohol, leading to a higher blood-alcohol level.

Barnhill had testified that his extrapolations of blood samples taken from Welch indicated his blood-alcohol content level could have been anywhere between 0.09 percent and 0.12 percent at the time of the accident.

A blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent is presumptive evidence of driving while intoxicated in Louisiana.

William George, a Tulane University toxicology professor whom Thiel enlisted for a defense analysis, testified that he reached two conclusions based on the different time frames.

George testified that, assuming Welch had finished his drink at 5:15 p.m., which is what he told deputies on the day of the accident, Welch’s BAC could have been anywhere between 0.09 percent and 0.103 percent.

But assuming Welch finished the drink 30 minutes later, at 5:45 p.m., which is what he testified in court, Welch’s BAC likely was between 0.07 and 0.077 percent because his body would not have had as much time to absorb much alcohol at that point, George said.

Morrison, the judge, agreed with Thiel’s assessment that the conflicting toxicology reports cast doubt on Welch’s level of intoxication during the accident.

Morrison also said Welch’s timeline of events was logical based on the distance between his home and the dance studio and the time of the accident. Welch had testified that the studio was about 15 minutes from his house.