The man accused of accidentally causing the deaths of two people riding a motorcycle through Great Bend on Aug. 16, 2014, may face a jury trial this fall.
Great Bend landscaper William Howard Baker was in Barton County District Court on Friday for a pretrial hearing. He is charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of Shawn and Danielle Schellenger. Baker was driving a pickup pulling a trailer that came loose on 10th Street in 2014, crossing into oncoming traffic and hitting the Schellengers’ motorcycle.
Assistant County Attorney Douglas Matthews, who was county attorney at the time, filed the criminal complaint in 2015, months after the fatal crash. Involuntary manslaughter is a level 5 person felony. Baker was also charged with multiple misdemeanor traffic infractions, including driving without properly securing a load.
After a preliminary hearing, Baker entered a plea of “not guilty.” A jury trial was scheduled for Aug. 15, 2016, but it was put on hold after court officials were told that Baker had cancer. Court records state, “The defendant advised the court that the defendant is suffering from a potentially terminal medical condition and that the trial of this matter has been continued by the defense for that reason. ... The court is advised that the defendant cannot physically appear in court and that this condition is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.”
On June 24, 2016, Baker waived his right to a speedy trial.
However, the case became active again in 2018. In February there was a status hearing via telephone involving Matthews, who continues to work on the case, defense attorney Christopher O’Hara from Wichita and District Judge Scott McPherson.
On Friday, Charles O’Hara from the same law firm was in court with Baker.
“The defendant still remains in very poor health,” O’Hara said, asking if he could get a doctor’s deposition “to see if he’s physically able to attend hearings.”
The defense attorney was also concerned because he said he didn’t know if the Barton County Attorney’s Office had provided all of the information from its investigations. O’Hara said he wants the “Giglio material,” a term that refers to information tending to impeach the character or testimony of prosecution witnesses.
An officer who testified at the preliminary hearing has since died, which exacerbates the problem, O’Hara noted. “I just want to be sure I get everything.”
County Attorney Amy Mellor said this is still Matthews’ case, although he was not able to attend Friday’s hearing, but as far as she knows everything has been disclosed.
McPherson asked questions about the nature of the defense O’Hara will provide and the defense attorney responded that the defense will be that Baker is not guilty.
O’Hara was given an Aug. 31 deadline to complete depositions.
Baker said he is willing to continue to waive his right to a speedy trial.
“We’ll move this along as quickly as we can,” McPherson said, adding the case has “a lot of pieces.”
“We’ll be looking at the earliest, September,” McPherson said of a possible trial date. But O’Hara said it will probably take longer than that as he has several motions to file.