CLEVELAND – A judge raised the bond to $1 million during the arraignment for the Columbia Station man accused of striking and killing Trooper Kenneth Velez with his car on Sept. 15.
While Joshua Gaspar, 37, stood before the judge in an orange prison uniform Thursday and entered a not guilty plea, his family waited outside the courtroom praying for the judge to lower in the bond in what his lawyer called an accident.
Gaspar is charged with two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of driving under the influence. His attorney Jonathan Sinn said Gaspar was on a therapeutic dose of methadone at the time of the crash, and he was not high on drugs.
“My client was not impaired,” Sinn told Judge Michael Russo.
The Ohio Highway Patrol has said that Gaspar was under the influence of drugs when his 2015 Hyundai Veloster struck Velez while the 48-year-old trooper was conducting routine traffic enforcement on Interstate 90.
Sinn said Gaspar, who owns his own construction business, was driving from one job site to another when Velez, who was outside of his patrol car on the berm, used hand signals to motion the vehicle in front of Gaspar’s car to the side of the road.
Instead of pulling over, Sinn said, the driver of the vehicle in front of Gaspar’s car slammed on the brakes and his client veered to avoid hitting the vehicle. Unfortunately, Sinn said, Gaspar struck Velez and another vehicle struck the back of his car.
Sinn said his client has been taking methadone for the past three years to get over an addiction to prescription painkillers that developed after a work injury. Since Gaspar started the treatment three years ago, Sinn said, he’s had nothing but clean drug tests.
Gaspar was being treated for his addiction at the Community Action Against Addiction clinic in Cleveland.
Sinn said that Gaspar has been weaned off methadone while he’s being held in the Cuyahoga County Jail since his arrest.
However, during the arraignment, Russo said Gaspar tested positive for heroin in July, August and September. Sinn denied those claims, but when he asked the judge to lower the bond, Russo told him he was setting the bond for the charges against Gaspar, not the one Sinn wishes were against him. Russo warned Sinn several times not to try his case during the arraignment.
Russo also noted that Gaspar is still under probation from a 2012 drug charge in Alabama and has numerous traffic violations on his record.
“If you focus on whether or not he was impaired at the time of the trooper’s death the only answer is no, absolutely not,” Sinn said following the arraignment. “I’m disappointed the state argued to keep my client in custody.”
Gaspar’s family bowed their head in prayer following the outcome of the arraignment while Sinn talked to the media.
“They’re holding up. They’re a good family, a religious family. They’ve put all their faith in God at this point in time and they believe God is going to get him through it,” Sinn said. “They’re sticking together and standing behind Josh.”
Gaspar is next due in court Oct. 11. Sinn said he was disappointed, but not surprised that the judge raised Gaspar’s bond from $500,000 to $1 million.
“I think you’ve got a state trooper sitting at the counsel table in there and I think there is a lot of pressure out there to keep this bond high,” Sinn said. “I think you’ve got a dead police officer and this judge isn’t taking any chances but I think has the evidence unfolds the court is going to be forced to look at the evidence and realize that Josh was not impaired and treat this like what is, an accident.”