On the night he was hit and killed by a Charlotte Mecklenburg police vehicle, James Michael Short had been drinking heavily, a friend testified on Friday.
John Jacik told the jury that Short was noticeably “more drunk than he should’ve been” when the two men arrived at a South End club around 8 p.m. on July 7, 2017. Short had been taking shots of alcohol since 4 p.m., Jacik said.
Around midnight, Jacik lost Short outside of the club. Hours later, Short was crossing a street in a designated crosswalk when he was struck by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department vehicle driven by officer Phillip Barker. The officer, traveling more than 100 mph on East Morehead Street, was on a call responding to a wreck. The speed limit on Morehead Street is 35 mph. Short was killed instantly instantly.
Barker, now 29, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, he could be sentenced to more than five years in prison.
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A friend recalls the fatal night
Jacik met Short in 2014 when Jacik came to Charlotte from New Jersey to visit his family. The two bonded having “a couple of drinks.”
“There is that time where you meet that person and hit it off with them,” he told the jury. “That’s how it was with us. We had been friends ever since.
Jacik said he and Short talked often by phone, but whenever he was in Charlotte, they’d meet up.
On July 2, 2017, Jacik flew into town for July 4th. Short picked him up from the airport and the two hung out throughout the week.
The two made plans to go to a club the night of July 7. They booked a hotel room and took an Uber to South End around 8 p.m.
The two men separated in the club but reconnected when a bouncer evicted Short for being too drunk, Jacik said.
The two sat outside, unable to call an Uber because Jacik’s phone had died and Short’s phone was temporarily locked.
Short, Jacik said, was so intoxicated that his words were slurred and he had trouble walking. Jacik said Short had even tried to get into random Uber rides.
Jacik said someone noticed the two outside the club and offered to help him find a phone charger inside the club.
Jacik said he laid Short on a bench and went back inside. When he came back, Short was gone.
“I thought that maybe he found someone he knew because he was from this area,” Jacik told jurors. “I decided to just figure out how to get myself home.”
Jacik caught a ride back to his hotel room and waited up for Short until 9 a.m., when he fell asleep, he told the jury. At 10 a.m., police came to the hotel room to tell Jacik what had happened to Short and to confiscate Short’s belongings.
Detectives later took Jacik to a police station for questioning.
Barker’s defense attorney, Michael Greene, raised questions in court about whether Short also had been taking prescription medications.
“There were no drugs involved whatsoever,” Jacik said.
Speeding to a service call
Steven Kelly, a former police colleague of Barker, said he noticed Barker was speeding enroute to the wreck on July 8, 2017.
The two were patrolling the night shift near uptown Charlotte when the dispatch call came in. Kelly saw Barker turning onto East Morehead Street and let his vehicle get ahead.
“Officer Barker, I could tell, was driving a little bit faster than I was,” Kelly testified.
Barker, Kelly said, was going so fast that his vehicle was at least a football field length away.
Kelly said he initially tried to catch up with Barker but decided to stay between 50 to 70 mph, referring to department policy.
Officers should “drive with due regard to the safety of others,” Kelly said.
Despite the distance, he could still see Barker’s car, but noticed him swerve abruptly.
Kelly said he saw what he initially thought was debris come from around Barker’s vehicle.
“I thought his tire had blown out,” he said.
He stopped behind Barker’s car and got out and noticed there was damage to Barker’s windshield, Kelly said. He begins accessing the scene and noticed a body in the roadway.
Kelly told jurors he hadn’t seen any pedestrians or cars traveling prior to the collision.
Green, the defense attorney, drew attention to Kelly’s own speed, showing evidence that he peaked at 74 mph.
Greene questioned Kelly about whether he had a clear vision of Barker’s car and the road ahead of him.
“Yes,” Kelly responded.
Greene then asked Kelly whether he had seen Short walking on the crosswalk prior to the crash.
“I never saw him,” Kelly said.
Examining the crash site
Short’s body had major injuries caused by the collision, according to crime scene investigator Shari Walton.
‘He had a severed leg, road rash was present, his limbs were twisted and his head was flattened,” she testified.
She also noticed that his body and clothing were wet, though it hadn’t rained that day.
Jurors were shown a number of photos to identify where evidence was found across the crash scene — evidence including:
- A black Verizon galaxy s7 cell phone (cracked on both sides)
Walton testified that parts of Short’s body were found across the scene, including tissue found in the canopy of a nearby tree.
Barker’s vehicle had a shattered windshield that was separated from the roof of the car and a severely dented hood, Walton said.
The trial is set to resume Monday at 9:30 a.m. and is expected to last through the week.