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Man receives prison time for skateboarder's death

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A Crawfordsville man will serve three years in prison for the death of a skateboarder in 2019.

Gregory A. Knowling, 52, pleaded guilty in Montgomery Superior Court I to a felony charge of causing death when operating a motor vehicle with a Schedule I or II controlled substance and was sentenced Friday.

Investigators determined Knowling had THC in his system when he struck 18-year-old Christopher Wood as the teen was skateboarding near Covington Hill in the predawn hours of Sept. 24, 2019. THC is the high-inducing compound in marijuana.

Wood, who was from Cayuga, suffered brain trauma and other injuries and died two days later at a hospital in Indianapolis.

As part of the sentence, Judge Heather Barajas ordered Knowling to serve four years of probation and three years on electronic home detention.

He was also required to serve 240 hours of community service and undergo substance use treatment and mental health counseling. His driving privileges were suspended for at least two years.

“If for your use of marijuana, we may not be here,” Barajas said.

Two other felony charges of causing death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and reckless homicide were dismissed as part of a plea deal.

Knowling tearfully gave a brief statement before the sentence was handed down saying he was “beyond sad” for Wood’s family and that the incident is “on my mind almost every minute of every day.”

He was convicted three previous times in drug-related cases and found guilty of operating while intoxicated in 2010.

After the hearing, Wood’s mother Stephanie Wood said Barajas’s sentence “wasn’t enough, but our family has justice.”

In emotional testimony, Stephanie Wood and her husband John described their son as an active Boy Scout who enjoyed fishing and other outdoor activities. He had plans to earn a high school equivalency diploma and join the Navy.

His sister Brooklyn, who was a senior in high school when her brother was killed, testified about being notified of the crash by a police officer who pulled her out of class. She was overcome with emotion describing being at her brother’s bedside at the hospital.

“Mr. Knowling, do you know how it feels to lose your best friend because if you do, it sucks,” she said.

The crash occurred as Wood and two friends were walking on the right side of the shoulder on Waynetown Road in the darkness. Wood had decided to ride his skateboard down the hill when he was struck by Knowling’s work van.

Wood was carried by the vehicle for some distance. Police found him alongside the road near the bottom of the hill.

After first claiming that he had not been driving under the influence, Knowling later admitted to vaping marijuana about 36 to 48 hours before the incident.

He claimed he did not see anyone along the road and thought he may have struck a fallen sign or post, defense attorney James Voyles said. Wood was wearing dark clothing.

Earlier in the morning, a Crawfordsville police officer patrolling another part of town had told Wood and his friends to move off the road. Another motorist told police she had nearly struck the group near where Market Street bends onto Waynetown Road.

The prosecution and defense disagreed over how fast Knowling was driving at the time of the crash based on calculations in the crash reconstruction. Investigators determined Knowling was going nearly 60 mph, about 20 mph over the posted speed limit.

A crash reconstructionist called by the defense claimed that the area was not lit well enough for Knowling to avoid striking Wood. But Sgt. Jake Watson, a crash reconstructionist for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, said the lighting was adequate for a sober alert driver to notice pedestrians along the road.

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