Monday, January 25, 2016
Drunk driver who killed Joplin child, Neosho man headed back to court
It had been nearly 11 years since Jessica Mann had been the Joplin students' classmate. While the rest of them had enjoyed school activities, first dates, getting their driver's licenses, and all of the things that make the younger years so exciting, Jessica never had the chance to experience any of them.
In one fleeting moment on July 30, 2004, Jessica Mann's life ended, as did the life of her grandfather, at the hands of a drunk driver.
According to investigating officers, Edward Meerwald, intoxicated and driving at a high rate of speed, ran his car off Highway 86 near Neosho and killed Jessica and Jim Dodson, 69, who were standing in Mr. Dodson's driveway.
The deaths of Jessica Mann and Jim Dodson led to a new law in the state of Missouri, sponsored by Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, which allows prosecutors to charge drunk drivers whose actions lead to someone's death with second degree murder.
The law did not apply to Edward Meerwald, who was charged with two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and after three changes of venue, first to Jasper County, then to McDonald County, and finally back to Newton County, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years on each count to be served consecutively.
Of course, no one ever serves the complete amount of time to which they have been sentenced, it seems, so Meerwald is already back on the streets, though Missouri Department of Corrections online records do not indicate how long that has been the case.
Eleven and a half years have passed since Meerwald's actions ended the lives of Jessica Mann and Jim Dodson. Dodson's widow and Jessica's parents filed a lawsuit against Meerwald and the Pub Bar, the place where Meerwald drank far too much before he took to the road. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, but no amount of money could bring back what the family had lost.
On March 29, for the first time since his sentencing more than 10 years ago, Edward Meerwald, 61, will be back in court, this time in McDonald County Circuit Court before Judge John LePage.
It is not the kind of hearing that generally draws much attention.
After all, all Meerwald is doing is asking Judge LePage to order the Department of Revenue to issue him a driver's license.