A judge on Wednesday dismissed a reckless driving charge against former Union Gap Mayor Jim Lemon, citing insufficient evidence.
“The evidence is just not there that Mr. Lemon drove recklessly,” Yakima County District Judge Kevin Roy said.
Lemon had been accused of spinning the tires of his van to spray a city public works employee with gravel last November.
“All I was doing was serving my town as the mayor,” Lemon said in an interview after the dismissal.
His attorney called it an accident and the judge agreed after interim Union Gap police Chief Greg Cobb acknowledged mistakes in the preliminary investigation of the incident.
Roy took issue with the distance between Lemon’s vehicle and Ron Phillips when the incident occurred, which was about 50 feet. He said the testimony didn’t indicate Lemon could have known his vehicle would kick up gravel or throw it that far.
“The fact that gravel could have hit anyone from that distance is amazing,” Roy said.
Lemon’s attorney, Jeff West, requested the dismissal while the jury was in recess. West said none of the testimony proved Lemon acted recklessly or could have foreseen gravel striking Phillips, and Roy agreed.
“It’s merely an accident and that is not sufficient,” West said.
Phillips, a longtime public works employee, told the jury that the mayor contacted him along a road and complained about how he was doing his job. Phillips testified that he thought that the conversation was over and started walking away. Phillips said the mayor then told him not to leave, called him a name and pulled away.
That’s when Phillips says he was hit by the gravel, which also pelted his truck. Prosecutors showed photos of Phillips with an abrasion above one eye and his broken glasses. But in his testimony, Cobb said he found no marks on the truck from gravel striking it.
Phillips acknowledged on cross-examination that he did not see Lemon as he was being struck. He said he only heard the vehicle’s tires accelerating and then was hit by the gravel.
Cobb investigated the scene several hours later, but acknowledged he mistakenly investigated the opposite side of the road from where Lemon drove off and later had to correct the report.
The trial opened Wednesday morning with jury selection at the Yakima County Courthouse. Roy made the dismissal shortly after 3 p.m.
Lemon is still facing more legal issues, as two former Union Gap city clerks have claims pending against Lemon and the city for a number of allegations, including wrongful termination, gender discrimination and defamation.
In March, the city agreed to pay former fire Chief Bill Steele $125,000 in severance pay after he filed a claim that Lemon fired him without cause in 2011. The city also agreed to acknowledge in official records that Steele was fired without cause and write him a letter of recommendation.