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Lawyers for truck driver accused of causing double fatal crash on Route 24 seeks to move trial out of Harford

Attorneys for the truck driver accused of causing the 12-vehicle crash on Route 24 that killed two people in March are asking to move his upcoming trial out of Harford County.

Carloo Watson’s lawyers filed a motion for a change of venue last week in Harford County Circuit Court, where a pre-trial conference was held Wednesday morning with retired Judge Thomas Marshall.

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“[Watson] was not in a position to plead today,” Assistant State’s Attorney Cristin Treaster said. “That’s the only reason for a pre-trial conference.”

Watson, of North Brunswick, N.J., was indicted Aug. 27 on two counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, two counts of vehicular manslaughter with criminal negligence and four counts of causing serious injury while using a cellphone in connection with the March 11 crash.

A charge of grossly negligent manslaughter, a felony, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted; criminally negligent manslaughter is punishable by up to three years in jail.

The wreck killed Andrew Klein, 65, of Forest Hill and president of Klein’s Family Markets — a division of ShopRite, and 7-year-old Tripp Johnson, a second-grader at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon. Four other people were seriously injured.

In the motion for the change of venue, Watson’s attorney Brian Thompson said there has been extensive pre-trial publicity of the crash and Watson’s arrest.

“Not only was Mr. Klein a prominent business man, but a well-renowned local philanthropist, referred to as a philanthropic icon,” Thompson said in the motion. “Tripp Johnson was a popular second-grader at William Paca Elementary in Joppa, Maryland, whose mother was also injured in the crash.”

He provided numerous examples of articles written about the crash, Klein and Johnson.

“Harford County is a small community and both victims are Harford County residents. This case has received extensive media coverage even prior to the trial beginning. The bail review itself garnered significant media coverage,” Thompson wrote.

“If this court were to wait until jury selection to determine whether a fair and impartial jury can be found, the publicity — as the trial progresses — will make that accomplishment exponentially more difficult. It is reasonable to believe that the coverage of the trial in this case will garner tremendous publicity and public sentiment.”

Last month, a trial for Naeshawn Jaheim-Troy Perry, who was accused of killing a 15-year-old in 2017, was postponed after too few jurors could be found the hear the case. Perry’s attorney’s filed a motion for a change in venue Oct. 31. A hearing is scheduled in that case for Dec. 30, according to electronic court records.

While other motions to dismiss charges against Watson and to suppress evidence were also on the schedule to be heard Wednesday, according to online court documents, Marshall did not hear them. He said they would have to be scheduled.

Treaster said she hopes the hearing will be scheduled in January, before the Jan. 27 trial date.

“We’re hoping not to push back the trial date,” she said.

As of Thursday morning, a new date had not been set for the hearing, according to electronic court records.

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