MSU coach was texting, Googling for strip clubs before fatal crash, prosecutors say

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Michigan State University basketball strength coach Todd Moyer, foreground, consoled by his attorney Neil Rockind, closes his eyes as he was found guilty by a jury of two counts of reckless driving causing death last month.

Monroe County prosecutors say a former Michigan State University strength and conditioning coach was texting and searching for strip clubs when he crashed his vehicle, killing a woman and her 5-year-old daughter last year.

As a result of an investigation, Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Michael G. Roehrig said the prosecutor's office is recommending Todd Matthew Moyer, 28, receive top sentencing guidelines ahead of his sentencing on Thursday.

A jury found Moyer guilty of two counts of reckless driving causing death last month, which carries up to a 15-year sentence and $15,000 fine.

Attorneys Michael J. Nichols and Neil Rockind are representing Moyer. Rockind said they are proposing a sentence without incarceration. Moyer is working with MSU head basketball coach Tom Izzo on a public service announcement warning about distracted driving.

"He can't bring back the two lives that were taken," Rockind said. "He can’t go back to that moment, but sending him to prison may provide some measure of justice, but it doesn’t accomplish anything for someone that can do good otherwise."

In July 2017, Moyer's pickup collided at 78 mph on southbound U.S. 23 with a vehicle driven by Gladys Jonson, 36, and her daughter, Za'Kira, in a construction zone marked by a rumble strip and eight orange warning signs. Prosecutors said Moyer did not try to evade or brake and drove at a constant 78 mph for at least five seconds before the crash.

In the five minutes before, according to a press release, Moyer conducted one Google search for strip clubs in Delaware, Ohio, and texted a link one minute before crashing. He also received and read eight texts and sent four others. Moyer's only unread message occurred at the same time he collided.

After the impact, according to prosecutors, Moyer texted: "Omg, I'm (explicit). Two ppl killed," "Bro. I swear," "I'm going to jail." 

When asked by an investigator if he was texting, according to prosecutors, Moyer dropped his head and said, "Yes."

Rockind told jurors in July that there was no evidence that Moyer “had his head buried in his phone" because accidents occur in a matter of seconds.

"There was no evidence in the moment of the accident that Todd was messaging," Rockind said.

At the time of the accident, Moyer was a basketball strength and conditioning coach at MSU, but the university did not renew his contract in June.

38th Circuit Court Judge Michael A. Weipert will decide Moyer's sentence.

Roehrig said the prosecutor's office calculates the minimum guidelines to be three years and seven months to seven years and two months. Prosecutors are recommending the latter, though Weipert still could go with the defense's recommendation of no prison time.

Rockind said more than 100 people fwrote letters describing Moyer as a "God-fearing, church-going, helpful, charitable, conscientious, kind, loving person." Izzo and several former college athletes also have spoken of his character.

"It's been 13 months since the accident," Rockind said. "And not one of those days has gone by where Todd hasn’t spent part of the day thinking of the Johnson family."

Roehrig said although incarceration cannot make up for the "senseless" double fatality, the top guidelines should provide a deterrent to others.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 9 percent of fatal crashes were affected by distracted driving and were responsible for 3,450 deaths. Moyer traveled 570 feet — nearly two football fields — in the five seconds before his collision.

"We want to try to draw attention in a small way to what happened in this case," Roehrig said. "We can use this case as a reminder to everyone that gets behind the wheel that they need to concentrate on driving the car and not in any way on the phone."