Man sentenced to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter of MU professor

Wednesday, March 11, 2009 | 10:42 p.m. CDT; updated 11:25 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 11, 2009

COLUMBIA — A Holts Summit man, who caused a fatal car crash killing an MU professor on Feb. 22, 2008, was sentenced to 11 1/2 years in prison after being found guilty Wednesday in Boone County Circuit Court.

William C. Downs, 34, will serve 1 1/2 years for possession of controlled substances and 10 years for the first-degree involuntary manslaughter of  61-year-old MU professor Charles D. Fulhage.

Fulhage's wife, Jane, testified about the loss of her 30-year partner Wednesday afternoon during the trial.

“No one can understand the depth of the agony, the despair I am feeling,” she said. “He was my partner, my best friend, my strength. Just like when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, he was always there with me.”

Over the day and a half of testimony, assistant prosecutors Stephanie Morrell and Brent Nelson focused on Downs’ intoxicated condition while driving; this wasn’t his first time doing so.

On Feb. 7, 2008, Downs pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated on Oct. 5, 2007, according to Missouri

About three weeks after his plea, Downs was driving west on Interstate 70 when his silver Dodge truck struck the back of Fulhage’s Ford Ranger. Fulhage’s vehicle veered off the interstate and rolled down an embankment.

Fulhage died several days later from injuries sustained by the crash, Boone County Deputy Medical Examiner Eddie Adelstein said.

During the trial, 10 witnesses testified to establish Downs was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

When Sgt. Candy Cornman of the Columbia Police Department evaluated Downs, she testified that she noticed his “droopy, sleepy” eyes, “stale” breath and pale face. After performing a vision and muscle tone exam, she determined his actions suggested he had taken a central nervous system suppressant and a narcotic.

St. Louis County Chief Toxicologist Christopher Long also supported this diagnosis in his testimony.

According to the toxicology reports, he found traces of cocaine in Downs' blood, the after-effect of which is traumatic, Long said. Substances such as Xanax and Valium can help relax this effect, Long said.

A Valium pill was found in Downs’ car during a search at the site of the accident.

Public defenders Stephen Murrell and Manuel Tatayon tried to establish reasonable doubt in the testimony of the witnesses and paint Downs as a family man. The defense called no witnesses during the trial.

The jury deliberated for about 45 minutes before finding Downs guilty of both charges. It took another two hours before finalizing his sentencing.

The final disposition of the case is currently set for 1:30 p.m. April 27.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.