Judge clears Grants Pass man in traffic fatality case

A Grants Pass man is not guilty of crimes in a head-on crash that killed a young Rogue River mother, a Jackson County Circuit Court judge ruled Wednesday afternoon.

Judge William Purdy announced the verdict in the case of Jacob Matthew Ries, 22, and left his courtroom without comment.

Ries had been charged with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving in the death of Scarlet Delight O'Hara Ackroyd, 22.

The Measure 11 manslaughter charge carried a mandatory sentence of just over six years in the penitentiary.

Ries was the last witness, testifying on his own behalf Tuesday at the one-day bench trial. Ries said he was trying to stop his pregnant girlfriend, Bobbi Ann Krouse, 20, from driving in inclement weather when he followed her down Wards Creek Road just before 8 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2007. Ries pulled into the oncoming traffic lane and hit a car driven by Ackroyd. Both Ries and Krouse testified Ackroyd's headlights were not working at the time of the crash.

After hearing he was free to go, Ries again apologized to the victim's family as he walked out of the courtroom holding Krouse's hand. Krouse has since given birth to their daughter.

"I'm sorry, you guys," Ries said.

Outside the courtroom, the father of the victim, John Kuenstler, criticized Purdy's verdict.

"I just don't think that justice was done," he said. "I think there should have been accountability. My daughter was just driving down the road."

Purdy's decision also surprised Tim Barnack, senior deputy district attorney. Barnack had taken his sentencing guidelines to the court.

"I was expecting a different verdict," said Barnack. "I believe the facts at a minimum supported a conviction of negligent homicide."

All three vehicles crashed that rainy night. After freeing himself from his vehicle, Ries checked on his girlfriend, who wasn't seriously injured, and then on Ackroyd.

Rogue River Fire District No. 1 worked at length to free Ackroyd from her crushed car and rushed her to Providence Medford Medical Center. Ackroyd, who had given birth to a daughter just three weeks before, died of massive internal injuries that night.

Ackroyd's friends testified Tuesday that the young mother had been visiting them in Rogue River. Just minutes before the crash, Melissa Nienkark said she watched Ackroyd buckle her 21/2-year-old son, Andrew, securely in a child safety seat. The toddler escaped with just bruises. Nienkark also testified Ackroyd's headlights were working that night.

Kuenstler said he and his wife, Echo, are raising Ackroyd's children.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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