Fayette County

Grand jury adds reckless homicide to charges against former UK student in 4-year-old’s death

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An 18-year-old former University of Kentucky student accused of driving drunk in a crash that killed a 4-year-old boy now faces a reckless homicide charge, according to an indictment released Wednesday.

Jacob Heil was initially charged by police only with driving under the influence in the death of Marco Lee Shemwell, who was struck during a UK football game Sept. 15 while he and his family were waiting to cross Cooper Driver near Scoville Drive. Marco died Sept. 17 at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

Christopher Spedding, Heil’s attorney, said he disagrees with the indictment handed down Wednesday.

“However, we respect it and will defend Jacob vigorously because there will be more evidence as the case proceeds,” he said. Spedding also said the defense will conduct its own investigation.

Jim Gilpin, Marco’s uncle and a family spokesperson for the Shemwells, released the following statement on behalf of the family:

“The Shemwells are aware of the grand jury’s decision to indict Mr. Heil on the charge of reckless homicide. Ben and Liz, Marco’s parents, have faith in our court system and believe that justice will be served for Marco. Our family is humbled by the outpouring of love and for those who have prayed for us during this difficult time. We ask for privacy as we continue to heal, and have no further comment.”

Heil pleaded not guilty to DUI in September. The grand jury included a misdemeanor DUI count in its new reckless homicide indictment of Heil.

Heil is scheduled to be arraigned anew on the reckless homicide and DUI charges on Feb. 22.

The corner of Cooper Drive and Scoville Road where 4-year-old Marco Lee Shemwell was struck by a car allegedly driven by Jacob Heil on Sept. 15 . Shemwell died Sept. 17 at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

According to Heil’s arrest citation, he “had a strong odor of alcoholic beverages, red bloodshot watery eyes and showed signs of impairment.”

A police report showed Heil had a blood-alcohol level of 0.051. The legal limit for those over age 21 is 0.08. For those under 21, the limit is 0.02. He told police he drank two beers and that he was at “game tailgating” before Marco was hit.

Lexington police Sgt. Stephen Yoder said at the time that Heil’s vehicle might have “veered off the road a little bit,” before striking Marco, but Spedding, said “all the information we have is that he did not” veer off the road.

Heil took a portable breath test at the scene, and Spedding initially questioned those results that were not admissible in court.

Spedding said blood was drawn at the Fayette County jail and the results of blood tests could take months. Grand jury action likely waited on those results.

The university suspended Heil and the fraternity he was reportedly pledging, Alpha Tau Omega, UK President Eli Capilouto announced in a campuswide email the week after the incident. A day later, the national ATO chapter dissolved its UK chapter and announced it “no longer has a presence on campus.”

Jacob Heil

The fraternity had collected money to buy alcohol to serve at a tailgate held off campus at 214 Waller Avenue the day of the game. In addition to minors having alcohol, a UK letter to the fraternity said, an investigation noted that pledges also served alcohol to fraternity members, which was a hazing offense.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Heil is not enrolled at the university this semester.

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Marco Shemwell
Four-year-old Marco Lee Shemwell, 3 years old in this photo, was struck and killed outside Kroger Field football stadium. Provided by Shannon Andreas