A Hillsboro man was sentenced to 30 months in prison after a Highland County jury found him guilty of drug trafficking and child endangerment charges — but it ruled there was not sufficient evidence to prove that he led authorities on a high-speed chase near Hillsboro in January.
After about an hour and a half of deliberation, the jury found Justin Anderson, 32, not guilty of failure to comply with the order or signal of a police officer, a third-degree felony; guilty of aggravated trafficking in drugs in the vicinity of a juvenile, a third-degree felony; guilty of aggravated possession of drugs, a fifth-degree felony; and guilty of two counts of endangering children, a first-degree misdemeanor.
The charges were filed after authorities chased a runaway car down SR 138 and other back roads at speeds in excess of 100 mph — and while authorities initially found Anderson in the passenger seat, much of trial boiled down to a dispute over who was driving the vehicle during the chase.
Witnesses testified that Anderson and his girlfriend at the time, Larissa Taylor, were headed southeast on SR 138 toward Danville at a high rate of speed when Deputy John Gilbert of the Highland County Sheriff’s Office passed them going the opposite direction.
Gilbert testified that he clocked the vehicle going 70 mph, so he turned around and attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the vehicle fled, eventually reaching speeds in excess of 100 mph on the winding state route, Gilbert said. The car turned right on Watson Road, then again onto Bryant Road, where it pulled into a private driveway and was obscured from Gilbert’s view for approximately 30 seconds, the deputy said. When Gilbert approached the vehicle, Taylor was in the driver’s seat, Anderson was in the passenger’s seat, and two children were in the back seat.
Taylor testified that she and Anderson were on their way to Cincinnati to take in a hockey game and spend a liesurely weekend, and they were taking the children, one of whom belonged to Anderson and the other to one of his acquaintances, to stay with family members. She said Anderson was the one driving when Gilbert attempted to pull them over, and that he fled because he was afraid of getting in trouble. Taylor said once they pulled into the driveway, Anderson asked her to move to the driver’s seat so he wouldn’t go to jail, and she, in a panic, made the switch.
“I didn’t even think we could move that fast,” she said.
Gilbert testified that Taylor was compliant when he asked for for license and registration, but when he arrested her, she began shouting at Anderson, saying, “Tell the truth.”
Gilbert said Anderson then told authorities he had switched places with Taylor inside the car. Both Taylor and Anderson were arrested — Taylor for obstruction of justice, and Anderson for failure to comply and child endangering. The children were sent to their grandparents’ house, Gilbert said.
Gilbert testified that he never observed anyone switch places in the vehicle.
After Anderson was taken into custody, he asked deputies to retrieve personal items from his suitcase in the trunk because he would need them in jail, Gilbert said. Inside the suitcase, deputies found more than 50 pills, which tested positive as amphetamine and oxycodone, witnesses testified. Witnesses testified that while Anderson had a prescription for some of the pills, the majority were not prescribed. Gilbert said the pills were bagged separately inside two containers, which indicated they were being prepared for illegal sale. Gilbert also said Anderson had $3,025 in cash on him, in denominations of $10 and $20, which indicated Anderson had been selling pills.
The defense called no witnesses and presented no evidence. Attorney Bruce Wallace, representing Anderson, said the defense had no need to do so because the prosecution had not presented enough evidence to prove Anderson’s guilt.
In closing arguments, Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins urged jurors to believe Taylor’s testimony because Taylor had no reason to lie, or even to testify at the trial, since she had already been charged and her case was resolved. Collins said Taylor also had no reason to run from the police, while Anderson did, since he had the pills in the back of the car.
Wallace said the state had presented no evidence that proved Anderson was driving the vehicle, and argued that Anderson was “just trying to get his girlfriend out of trouble” by saying he had been driving. Wallace also argued that Anderson asking the police to open up the black suitcase would have been self-defeating if the pills were really his.
“Is that how guilty people act? No,” Wallace said.
Collins contended that Anderson asked for items from the suitcase because the suitcase — and all the items inside — belonged solely to him.
After the jury was dismissed, Judge Rocky Coss ordered Anderson’s sentence: a total of 30 months in prison for the drug charges, with six month jail sentences for each of the child endangering charges to be served simultaneously with the felony sentence.
The jury also found that Anderson’s cash was subject to forfeiture, and the judge ordered it forfeited to the county’s law enforcement trust fund.
The judge said no license suspension was needed for Anderson because he didn’t have one in the first place.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.