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Columbia man sentenced to 7 years for fatal 2012 crash

Monday, June 2, 2014 | 10:54 p.m. CDT; updated 7:15 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 3, 2014

COLUMBIA — Spencer Gordon was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for causing a December 2012 car crash that killed one person and left another in a coma.

Gordon's blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.122 percent. The legal limit in Missouri is 0.08 percent. He was 20 years old at the time.

Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter sentenced Gordon, 22, after hearing five victim impact statements from the family of Michael Tufts, 25, who is in a coma, and reading a statement from the family of Michelle Morrow, who was 24 when she died in the crash Dec. 6, 2012. 

Gordon will serve time for his three charges concurrently, meaning he will serve seven years total. He pleaded guilty in March to one count of first-degree involuntary manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault, according to previous Missourian reporting. 

A maximum sentence of seven years was agreed upon in a plea negotiation reached in March. Gordon would not be sentenced to more time if Tufts were to die, according to the terms of the plea agreement. 

"This was not an accident; this was an incident," Carpenter said before announcing the sentence.

Gordon's defense attorney, Travis Noble, had asked that his client be sentenced to four months in prison and receive treatment for alcohol dependency along with doing community service.

But Carpenter rejected that argument, saying that Gordon was not an alcoholic and didn't need treatment.

Before he was sentenced, Gordon apologized to the families of Morrow and Tufts, and three people testified on his behalf during the hearing.

"I apologize for everyone having to be here today," he said, breathing heavily and appearing to fight back tears. "I am aware that there is nothing I could do to change this." 

His father, Todd Gordon, also apologized for his son's actions. 

"My son made an irresponsible and irreversible mistake," he said, prompting sobs from the section of the courtroom where the family of Michelle Morrow was sitting.

Todd Gordon acknowledged that his son's crime merited punishment but asked that he be allowed to serve 120 days in prison and do various kinds of community service.

Kathy McCurry, the mother of Gordon's best friend, who said she had known Spencer Gordon for 18 years, also asked that he not be forced to sit in a prison cell for seven years. The best way for him to serve time, she said, would be by letting him help other people change their lives.

They both asked that Gordon serve only 120 days, but the victims' families statements advocated for the full sentence. 

Tufts' sisters, Rebecca Abadi and Katherine Tufts; his brother, Steven; and his parents, Robert and Patricia, also made victim impact statements at the sentencing. 

All but Abadi and Steven Tufts wore an article of orange clothing in honor of Michael Tufts. Two friends of Tufts' family sat in the crowd in orange shirts that bore the phrase "Praying for Michael," bearing an orange cross and a quote from the Book of Romans.

In the statement that his mother read in court, she said the family celebrated her son's 25th birthday Saturday in the hospital where he remained in a coma. But she said the family got a call Sunday with unhappy news about his health's decline.

Robert Tufts said his son is fighting for his life.

"Michael is fighting pneumonia; he's fighting an infection. Things are turning bad," he said. "Unfortunately, his future is short."

Abadi, Steven and Katherine Tufts all reflected on Michael Tufts' impact on everyone he met. Abadi said people admired him for his toughness. 

"Everyone called him Tufts," she said, and began to cry. "He was tough to break or beat down; he was tough in the heart."

The Tufts family has been changed forever, Patricia Tufts said.

"Our hearts have been pinned with a badge that brings no honor," she said, drying her eyes with a wadded tissue. "We belong to a club we don't want to be a part of."

They all asked for the full sentence against Gordon. But Patricia Tufts said she had forgiven him because it was the "right thing to do." 

Morrow's family submitted a victim impact statement to the court but did not read it at the sentencing. 

Neither family was available for interviews after the sentencing.  

Gordon crashed his Volkswagen Beetle into the Ford F-150 Michael Tufts was driving, with Michelle Morrow and another person as passengers. Tufts and Morrow were both ejected from the truck when it overturned multiple times on Providence Road near Hinkson Creek Bridge. Morrow was pronounced dead later that night at University Hospital. Neither she nor Tufts were wearing seat belts.

The truck's third passenger, John Kalogeris, then 21, was the only person not thrown from the vehicle. He sustained non-life-threatening injuries, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Gordon and his passenger, Kyle Turner, then 22, were not injured in the crash.

Using a seat belt reduces serious injuries and deaths in crashes by 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2012, 79 percent of Missourians wore their seat belts, below the national average of 87 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Over Memorial Day weekend this year, eight people were killed in car crashes, and none of them was wearing a seat belt.

The Morrow and Tufts families also have lawsuits pending against Deja Vu Comedy Club. Missouri's dram shop laws, which regulate the sale of alcohol, state that bars are liable for damages caused by a customer being overserved. The families will have to prove that Gordon was "visibly intoxicated" at Deja Vu the night of the crash to win their cases.

According to Missouri laws, "a person is 'visibly intoxicated' when inebriated to such an extent that the impairment is shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction."

"If it's true Gordon was there and was served, the statute allows for a cause of action that is ordinarily not allowed in common law against bars," said E. Ryan Bradley, a personal injury attorney from St. Louis. "In the law, it says if you serve a minor, it almost reads as if you can have a cause of action even without the minor being over the legal limit."

But the law states the rules about serving minors do not apply if "the seller ... demanded and was shown a driver's license or ... identification card, appearing to be genuine and showing that the minor was at least twenty-one years of age."

If Gordon used an ID that showed he was 21, the families must prove that he was overserved at Deja Vu and that the amount served was directly related to the crash.

Brandon Weiss contributed to this story.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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