CRIME

Jurors can hear about meth in driver charged with killing 2 young boys, judge rules

Feb 23, 2023, 1:55 PM | Updated: Apr 17, 2023, 2:45 pm

A car is upside down in a corral....

Two Eagle Mountain children playing in a corral were killed when police say they were hit by a speeding car in May 2022. On Thursday, a judge ruled evidence from a blood test given to the driver after the crash can be used in his manslaughter trial. (Utah County Sheriff's Office)

(Utah County Sheriff's Office)

PROVO, Utah — A judge ruled Thursday that jurors will be allowed to hear about results of a blood test of a man charged with causing a crash that killed two young Eagle Mountain boys who were playing together with toy trucks in a corral.

Fourth District Judge Robert Lund found there was enough evidence to support probable cause for a warrant to obtain the blood test.

Kent Cody Barlow, 26, of Eagle Mountain, is charged with two counts of manslaughter, a second-degree felony, and possession or use of a controlled substance, a class A misdemeanor, in the deaths of Odin Jeffrey Ratliff and Hunter Charlie Jackson. The 3-year-old boys died after a car crashed into Cedar Valley Stables on May 2, 2022. Witnesses testified that Barlow was showing off his car by driving fast when he drove the car off the road and into the corral.

Motion to suppress

Defense attorney Benjamin Aldana argued that the information used to obtain a warrant to test Barlow’s blood — which showed he had methamphetamine in his system — was not valid.

Aldana said information in the warrant indicated that Barlow was unconscious and could not give consent to officers taking his blood and urine. But when officers came to serve the warrant and draw Barlow’s blood, he was alert. Because Barlow was no longer unconscious, the circumstances had changed and the warrant was no longer valid, he said.

He also argued that the warrant did not cite any indication of drug or alcohol use on Barlow’s part and said officers had time to do additional investigation prior to seeking the warrant.

“I just don’t think that there is any way that the warrant was valid to begin with, and I don’t think any reasonably well-trained officer would have expected this warrant to be valid,” Aldana said.

Deputy Utah County attorney Ryan McBride said the standard to issue a warrant is low, and it should be based on common sense rather than a hyper-technical analysis. He said the description of the crash in the warrant is enough for probable cause, noting that it said Barlow had ran a stop sign, that he he was going way too fast, that his car left the road, went through buildings and hit and killed two toddlers.

“Certainly a reasonable conclusion there is that he was on something to drive like this,” McBride said.

The judge said the warrant met the standard of probable cause, but acknowledged the support for the warrant was “thinner than in most cases.”

Lund said without any other conditions that could have caused the incident — like road conditions, other cars or weather — Barlow’s car destroyed a metal fence and horse stables, created a large debris field, injured three passengers in the car in addition to Barlow and caused the deaths of two children.

 

Two boys hugging and smiling.

Hunter Jackson and Odin Ratliff were killed when struck by a car while they played with their toys in Eagle Mountain on May 3, 2022. (Jackson family)

He said the facts in the warrant provided a high probability that the driver was impaired, considering the driving patterns, speed and failure to keep the car on the road.

Lund said even if another court were to find there was not probable cause for the affidavit, officers could reasonably have believed the driver was impaired. He cited Leon v. Sheppard or the “good faith exemption” where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled evidence from an invalid warrant could be used at a trial if the officers could reasonably have believed the warrant was valid.

October trial

Aldana previously filed a motion to seal his motion to suppress and close any hearings and evidence related to it from the public. After KSL, the Deseret News and KUTV fought against the motion, Lund ruled that the public has a right to courtroom access, and there was not enough evidence to show that opening such proceedings would prevent Barlow from receiving a fair trial.

During Thursday’s hearing, a trial for Barlow was set for Oct. 16 and is scheduled to run through the end of that month.

“This matter needs to be resolved,” Lund said.

Two additional hearings were set for Barlow, one in March to review a motion Aldana plans to file soon and another in April to review the progress of the case.

A photo of the suspect

Two Eagle Mountain children playing in a corral were killed when police say they were hit by a speeding car on May 2, 2022. On Thursday, a judge ruled evidence from a blood test given to the driver after the crash can be used in his manslaughter trial. (Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

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Jurors can hear about meth in driver charged with killing 2 young boys, judge rules