LONDON — A Woodbine man was found not guilty in the death of a London woman who was killed in a crash where she was ejected from the back of his pickup truck in April 2021.
William Petrey, 38, of Woodbine was facing a murder charge but a 12-member jury on Thursday afternoon also had the option to convict him of the lesser charges of second-degree manslaughter or reckless homicide. The jury found him not guilty on any of the optional charges presented.
The jury deliberated for just about an hour, after two days of testimony from witnesses and law enforcement who investigated the crash.
Petrey testified on Thursday that he did not know Rebecca Warren was in the back of his truck when he took off driving on the morning of April 21, 2021. He was driving on Pine Grove School Road in Laurel County around 8:55 a.m. when his truck left the roadway, hit an embankment of about 3 feet, and struck a fence post and a tree. After the impact with the tree, Warren was thrown from the bed of the truck into a barn. Laurel County Sheriff's Office Accident Reconstructionist Brad Mink testified on Thursday that there was blood on the barn about 11 feet high from the impact.
Commonwealth Attorney Jackie Steele argued that Petrey never hit the brakes and knew Warren was in the back of the truck.
Defense attorney BJ Foley presented that the burden of proof fell on the prosecution, but his client, Petrey, had stated from the 911 call after the crash and throughout the trial that he did not know Warren was in the back of the truck.
Petrey said the two had been in an argument that stemmed from Warren's drug use and Petrey said he was moving out of the house they shared to go back to his home in Woodbine.
Petrey said he had moved some stuff the day before the crash and had returned that night because he had no electricity at the Woodbine house. On the morning of the crash, he said he loaded the truck again and photos shown in the trial showed the inside of the truck was full of items.
Petrey testified he could not see out of his back window to the bed of the truck.
He said the last he saw of Warren before he left the house was her walking back toward the house before he drove around the house to head to his Woodbine residence.
Steele argued the reason Petrey drove around the house was to give Warren a chance to get out of the truck because he knew she was in there. Steele referred to a Laurel County Sheriff's Office interview with a neighbor who said she had seen Petrey talking to Warren while Warren was in the back of the truck. Foley pointed out that law enforcement did not record that interview and said there was a "win at all cost mentality by the Laurel County Sheriff's Office" in this case.
Warren's son also testified he saw the two talking while Warren was in the truck.
Petrey testified he did not know she was in his truck and that was the fastest route to get to the road. Petrey said he just wanted to leave as quick as possible because the fight had gotten physical and he knew it was escalating.
The neighbor who had reportedly told Laurel County Sheriff's Office investigators she saw the two talking while Warren was in the back of the truck testified in court that she saw Warren walk back into the house, then run back out and jump into the bed of the truck.
Petrey was emotional throughout his testimony, saying that he loved Warren and that he wished he would have just called police about her drug use so that she would have went to jail rather than the fatal incident occurring.
Steele said he respected the jury's verdict, but couldn't say that he agreed with it.
Foley said he was happy for his client and Petrey is now able to mourn the loss of someone he loved.