News Democrat

Legal battle over Stykes jeep

By Wayne Gates

The jeep that Brittany Stykes was killed in almost five years ago was on the road again last week.

It was taken by tow truck to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to be photographed and have a three dimensional rendering done on August 9. It has since returned to the BCSO impound lot in Georgetown.

The jeep has been sitting in the impound lot of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office since October of 2013. Daryl Shane Stykes, the widower of Brittany and father of the unborn baby that died with her and of Aubree, the little girl that was shot in the head while she was in her car seat, wants the jeep back.

Stykes filed a lawsuit against Brown County Prosecutor Zac Corbin and Brown County Sheriff Gordon Ellis to get the jeep and other property back in September of last year.

A hearing was held in May, and Magistrate Ken Zuk ruled in favor of Stykes on June 5.

In his decision, Zuk wrote “The evidence concerning the vehicle clearly shows that the vehicle was processed for evidence within a few days of it being properly seized through the execution of a search warrant. The evidence is also clear that the Ohio State Patrol sent some representatives to view and photograph the vehicle approximately two months after it was seized. Since October 2013, the vehicle has sat in the Brown County Sheriff’s Impound Lot and has not been touched.”

Responding to objections that the jeep amounts to a mobile murder scene, Zuk wrote “The Defendants claim that it is necessary to retain the Jeep Wrangler as it may be needed at a trial should one be arrested and charged with the murder of Brittany Stykes. The Brown County Sheriff has taken the position that the vehicle itself is the crime scene because Brittany Stykes was operating the vehicle on Route 68 in Brown County at the time when she was shot by an unknown assailant. The Defendants also claim that by keeping the vehicle they can determine the path of any projectile that was shot through the vehicle.

The Court notes that all those things should have been accomplished long before now.”

Zuk concluded his ruling by writing “The Defendants may retain possession of the 2000 Jeep Wrangler owned by Plaintiff until October 1, 2018, at which time the vehicle is to be surrendered to the Plaintiff. In the meantime, Defendants may perform any additional testing, photographing, measuring, or any other steps they deem necessary to obtain whatever they can from the vehicle. If they can’t find it within five years, it is safe to believe that it doesn’t exist.”

Brown County was represented by the law firm Isaac, Wiles, Burkholder and Teetor of Columbus as part of the agreement with the County Risk Sharing Authority or CORSA, the group that represents the county in civil litigation.

The ruling was not appealed within 14 days as required by law, but the county has asked Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler for leave to appeal the ruling. At press time, Gusweiler has not ruled on the request.

Corbin said that he feels that it is vital that the jeep remain in the hands of law enforcement.

“The murder investigation is ongoing. It continues. It’s our desire to maintain control of that jeep as evidence in that crime,” he said.

“The problem is that you can’t possibly forecast everything that could come up in the future. Who is to say that something won’t come up in the future that it wouldn’t be beneficial for us to have that jeep in our possession?”

Ellis also said that phyical control of the jeep is important.

“The jeep itself is important because we still have information that we have not been able to develop in the case. Some of the physical characteristics of the jeep could still be important once we put more information together in the case.”

Ellis and Corbin both said that regardless of the ruling, the investigation will continue.

“This does not change the fact that we are going to continue to investigate this case. This does not change the fact that we are going to continue to pursue the murderer. We are going to put together a case and hold the person that did this accountable,” Corbin said.