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Hit-and-run motorist seeks early release

A man charged with failing to stop after a fatal traffic collision remains incarcerated today after Logan County Common Pleas Court Judge Mark S. O’Connor held off ruling on his early release from prison for at least 10 days.

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MORGAN

Buster R. Morgan, 34, formerly of West Milton, has served two-and-a-half years of a stated four-year, 11-month prison sentence sentence for third- and fifth-degree felony charges of failure to stop after an accident.

The defendant is responsible for a July 11, 2009 incident in which the car he was driving ran over Jeffrey S. Gates, 48, and his son Virgil Gates, 24, both of Port Jefferson as they were attempting to cross State Route 366 near Lakeview Harbor about 1:30 a.m.

He then drove on heading south on State Route 235. Days later, troopers in Union County took him into custody. A search warrant was also ordered for his vehicle.

The elder Mr. Gates was pronounced dead at the scene. His son was flown by MedFlight to Grant Medical Center in Columbus where he was treated for his injuries.

A grand jury indictment also charged the defendant with a felony charge of tampering with evidence and vehicular homicide, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Defense attorney Steve Fansler offered the court a passionate case that his client is a changed man. He said Mr. Morgan’s extensive criminal record is partly the result of alcoholism — an addiction for which he has received treatment while in prison.

Standing up for the defendant, too, were his father and step-father and three family friends.

Each described the defendant as a good person sincerely affected by his prison experience.

Mr. Fansler told the court his client will be afforded legitimate employment opportunities upon his release ranging from water proofing to glass work.

The defendant incurred only a few very minor violations since he was locked up. He has pursued college classes, and excelled, and taken care of himself physically, losing nearly 70 pounds in jail, his attorney said.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Eric Stewart opposed the judicial release motion on behalf of the state. He cited the defendant’s previous criminal record that included multiple alcohol-related convictions that added up to 10 driver’s license revocations between 1997 and 2009.

Also speaking in opposition were Mr. Gates’ sister, Kim Rickert, and Virgil’s mother, who argued against any early release, especially because Mr. Morgan didn’t stop after he killed and critically injured their loved ones.

Mr. Fansler pitched the idea to the court that if his client won’t be directly released, that he be given the opportunity to do a stint at the West Central Community Based Correctional Facility to receive further treatment for his substance abuse addictions.

Ms. Rickert told the court that close to five years in prison, “shouldn’t be too much to ask” for a prison term for someone who killed another person with his vehicle.

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