JURY VERDICT: Eagle Lake man guilty of DUI with serious bodily injury

Jaron Skipper was high on methamphetamine when he slammed into the back of a city bus, critically injuring his two children who were improperly seat belted.

Jaron Skipper

A jury deliberated for less than two hours before finding Skipper guilty Saturday of two counts of DUI with serious bodily injury, two counts of neglect of a child, two counts of DUI causing injury, two counts of reckless driving, and DUI causing property damage – Skipper was acquitted of two counts of aggravated child abuse. He is facing up to 55 years in prison and will be sentenced on Feb. 8.

Assistant State Attorneys Josephine Colón and Mark Smith walked jurors through the events leading up to the crash on Jan. 11, 2017. Skipper, 37, of Eagle Lake, was driving a friend’s truck when he approached the Winter Haven intersection of U.S. Highway 17 and Snively Avenue.

A city transit bus was stopped at a designated bus stop with its flashers on. Skipper failed to stop and impacted the rear of the bus, causing extensive damage to the front end of the truck and the rear of the bus.

“There were no signs of braking or swerving,” Colón said, “no signs whatsoever that the defendant made any attempt to avoid hitting the back of the bus.”

Jaron Skipper hit the bus with so much force that his 6-year-old daughter Emma – who was not seat belted – was thrown through the truck’s windshield “like a bullet,” Colón said. Her head slammed into the back of the city bus before she fell to the roadway in front of the truck her father was driving.

Witnesses to the crash saw Emma lying under the bumper of the truck with radiator fluid leaking down on her, so they carried her to the sidewalk where she would be safe. They stayed with her to keep her calm, as she had several lacerations on the back of her head and was bleeding profusely.

Those witnesses also noticed Skipper in the driver’s seat and testified that he was semi-conscious.

Jaron Skipper’s 4-year-old son John was in the back seat wearing a normal seat belt – he was not in a proper child restraint device. John was propelled forward into the seat in front of him, and his spine was severed by the seatbelt and the force of the impact.

Both children and Skipper were flown to Tampa General Hospital to be treated. Emma recovered after undergoing surgery for a skull fracture, but John will most likely be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

Colón told members of the jury that every right has a responsibility, every responsibility has an obligation, and every obligation has a duty.

“Skipper disregarded his responsibilities, obligations, and duties as a driver on the roadway, and more importantly, as a parent,” she said.

Skipper took the stand Friday and testified that he was unsure how methamphetamine would have gotten in his system. He told jurors that he was waiting to get through the green light and was simply distracted while driving.

Colón asked Skipper how he was able to see the green light but unable to see the big blue bus – he told her he simply couldn’t remember seeing the bus or its flashers.

In closing arguments Saturday, the defense claimed that the events leading up to the crash on Jan. 11, 2017, were a series of unfortunate ones – that they just happened upon Skipper and his family.

Colón questioned the reasonableness of the defense’s stance.

“It just so happened to happen to him on this day?” Colón asked. “This doesn’t just happen. It happened because he was impaired on meth and his cognitive functions were diminished.”

“They (Emma and John) suffered at the hands of their father – the person who had the responsibilities, obligations, and duty to care for his own children,” she said.

State Attorney Brian Haas was very pleased with the outcome of this trial and said he is thankful for the hard work and dedication of Assistant State Attorneys Colón and Smith.

He also stated that he is grateful for the detail-oriented work of the deputies who handled this case.

“The Polk County Sheriff’s Office did an excellent job investigating this terrible crash,” Haas said. “Their work was critical to obtaining the outcome of this jury trial.”