Around 10-15 supporters for Serghei Comerzan showed up to a rally for Serghei Comerzan last Wednesday at the Audrain County Courthouse.
Their focus was on seeking justice for a Mexico, Mo. man who has been charged with second degree murder and felony resisting arrest for the death of the late Missouri State Highway Patrol Troopler James Bava on August 28, 2015.
Trooper Bava was killed when his patrol car crashed on Route FF in Audrain County during his pursuit of Comerzan’s motorcycle. Comerzan was reportedly traveling 105 m.p.h.
Audrain County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Scott Fox, who works for Audrian County Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger, was joined by Special Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Watson, from the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services, as they tried the case the week of May 19-26 at the St. Charles County Courthouse.
Reportedly, the jury deliberated the case for more than 13 hours before telling Judge Ted House that they were unable to reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared.
Another trial is scheduled for later in the year, also in St. Charles County, after the trial was moved there on a change of venue from Audrain County.
“(I am) trying to show support for Serghei, his family, and trying to get the public to put a little pressure on Shellabarger to make him understand that he overturns his case,” said Ron Toalson, a friend of the family who was at the protest. “They don’t have the proof. Wasting taxpayer money putting Serghei’s family through pretty much hell. The cost is enormous for the state and his family…You had your trial. They put on their best case. I’m sorry a trooper lost his life but they couldn’t prove it so why go through it again. I think Shellabarger needs to take a hard look at it and decide is it in the public’s interest to do this.”
Supporter Stacy Barker, of Mexico, carried a sign referencing a law (Section 544.157.1) regarding the role of an officer who has lost contact with a person they’re pursuing. The reference says officers should coordinate the operation with other jurisdictions and have guidelines to follow in interest of public safety as to when a pursuit should be inititated or terminated.
“And I understand that it’s a bad thing that he crashed and I feel very sorry for his family but that’s not Serghei’s fault,” Barker said. “He was speeding. That’s not okay but he could have radioed to the next officer down the line. It’s in the statute that they have to organize with other jurisdictions and he didn’t do that…And in this trial they are trying to get him for voluntary manslaughter. You can’t. You cannot prove that he knew he was being followed…If Serghei was going 110, 105, why was the cop going 140?” He passed him in the opposite direction so he knew the guy was going 70 miles almost over the speed limit and he had to turn around, leave the car he had pulled over, turn around and pursue him. Why didn’t he get back up? Why didn’t he contact the next county? Why didn’t he do it in a safe manner.”
Supporter Alex Smith said Comerzan can’t be held responsible for what someone else does.
Barker added that she’s also at the rally to protest Prosecuting Attorney Shellabarger.
“If Shellabarger doesn’t know the law, how is he going to enforce them,” she said. “…And I get that he wants to create his name. I don’t disagree with that but you do it in a reasonable way. You do it in a way that was just.”
Shellabarger expressed his sympathy for those affected by this case in a press release after the mistrial in May.
“Our sympathy is with the Bava family and with members of our law enforcement community in Audrain County who are hurting and continue to hurt after this tragic loss,” Shellabarger said. “Many of our county’s officers were friends of James and this loss is personal and has a lasting impact. I wanted to publicly thank the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar and his staff for being gracious and hospitable hosts during this trial process. This case has been difficult for everyone involved and the family can continue to heal. A team concept of experience, knowledge, and combined resources allowed this case to be fully investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We will return to try this case to a verdict.”