West Jordan man accused of attacking a teen driver in 2015 was acquitted of assault, but sentenced to jail on lesser counts

(Courtesy Salt Lake County jai) Malcolm Wayne Mcelyea

A West Jordan man — who two years ago was accused of attacking a teen after he crashed a car into a fence — was acquitted of assault charges, but sentenced to jail time on other lesser counts last week.

Malcolm Wayne Mcelyea, 53, went on trial in January, where a 3rd District Court jury found him not guilty of the four counts of third-degree felony aggravated assault with which he’d been originally charged.

But the jury convicted Mcelyea of reckless driving and giving false information to a police officer, both class B misdemeanors.

Prosecutors dismissed a class A misdemeanor count of child abuse during the trial, as well as an infraction of driving without a vehicle registration.

The aggravated assault charges were filed as a result of Mcelyea allegedly using his vehicle to ram the teen’s SUV, prosecutors said Wednesday, and the child abuse charge was a result of Mcelyea allegedly tackling the teen.

Charging documents state that a teen driver — a 16-year-old boy — was speeding on Sept. 26, 2015, when he crashed a borrowed sport utility vehicle into fence in the 8200 South block of Galilee Way (1210 West), knocking it down.

The teen driver, and his 18-year-old passenger, drove from the scene, later telling police he wanted to avoid getting in trouble.

Mcelyea’s defense attorney Nick Falcone said Wednesday that the teens had driven in excess of 70 mph through one end of a fence, through a backyard and came out the other side onto the road again.

“If there had been any children back there — or any person back there — they would have been killed,” Falcone said.

Charging documents said Mcelyea witnessed the crash, followed the teen in his Jeep and then rammed the Jeep to try and stop it. That caused a second crash and sent the Jeep airborne, the papers said.

Falcone said Mcelyea was attempting a PIT maneuver, which would cause the other vehicle to spin and stop, but didn’t know how to do it correctly.

The accident investigation found that Mcelyea had hit the teen’s car at least four times before the second crash, according to court papers. Falcone said the incident took about 30 seconds from the time of impact to the time the vehicles stopped, about 500 feet from where they’d started.

Charges say the two teens then fled on foot, but that Mcelyea allegedly caught the young driver and began to hit and head-butt him. However, Falcone said, that after the crash, it was neighbors — not Mcelyea — who apprehended the teens and kept them there until police arrived.

Investigators said that Mcelyea initially claimed that the teen driver had clipped his vehicle and that one of the young men had flashed a gun at him. A cell phone video taken by the teen driver’s passenger, however, showed the SUV had not hit Mcelyea’s car and no gun was found in the teen’s car, a probable cause statement shows.

Falcone said it was “punitive” for the state to go after his client the way they did when he was “just a neighbor trying to help his neighborhood” be safe. Falcone also noted that defense attorneys weren’t permitted access to any of the teen’s potential criminal history and couldn’t see whether the teens had faced consequences for allegedly speeding through the residential neighborhood and damaging property.

As for the assault charges, Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Colleen Magee said that jurors believed Mcelyea’s defense and determined that although Mcelyea drove recklessly, he “didn’t go so far as to commit an aggravated assault.”

Also, there hadn’t been sufficient evidence “as far as injury” of the teen for prosecutors to move forward with the child abuse charge, Magee said.

At last week’s sentencing, 3rd District Court Judge Katie Bernards-Goodman sentenced Mcelyea to 30 days in jail on the reckless driving conviction. Falcone said the defense team argued against that, but it was what the judge deemed appropriate.

Bernards-Goodman also sentenced the man to two years probation and an anger management class.