A Zionsville man will not face trial in a charge of reckless homicide in the death of his friend.
New evidence reversed the earlier conclusion that Jack Kaplan was driving when his SUV hit a tree, killing his friend, James Dupler, 21, of Zionsville. And the Boone County Prosecutor’s office moved to dismiss the case last week.
“Based on new reports, the experts in analyzing the physics and the crash are telling me it’s more likely than not that the defendant was the passenger,” Boone County Prosecutor Kent Eastwood said Thursday. “My role is to follow the evidence, and if there is no longer probable cause, I’m forbidden to go through with a case.”
Police at first concluded that Kaplan crashed his Ford Explorer and lied when he said Dupler was driving it after the two were at a sports bar together Oct. 20, 2016, according to court records.
Boone County Fatal Alcohol Crash Team (FACT) investigators believed at the time that Kaplan removed Dupler from the passenger seat and left him to lie dying on the ground next to the driver’s side of the SUV. Kaplan was accused of then sitting in the passenger side to await help. Investigators used hair found in the car to help determine where both men had been, according to court records.
But the prosecutor’s office couldn’t find a lab to test the DNA of more hair found at the scene for five years, Boone County Prosecutor Kent Eastwood said Thursday.
The hair was particularly difficult to test, and the Indiana State Police lab and Federal Bureau of Investigation refused the job. A private lab eventually accepted the case, but COVID-19 shut the lab down. Prosecutors again approached the FBI, which finally tested the samples.
“The hair evidence came back opposite of what everyone was expecting,” Eastwood said.
Investigators also based part of their conclusion on GPS data provided from a phone company for a phone found in the SUV.
“Turns out the GPS reports were wrong and the company didn’t tell us they had a glitch in their system until we were prepping for court a couple of weeks ago,” Eastwood said. Kaplan had been due to face a jury this month.
Eastwood’s office and the defense hired expert accident reconstructionists to analyze the crash independently, and both concluded that Kaplan was most likely the passenger, he said.
The FACT investigator also considered the new hair evidence and GPS information, compared notes with the expert witness and recently reversed his earlier conclusion.
“I commend the officer,” Eastwood said. “He was open enough to question his own findings, and he looked at it and said his original conclusion, based on new evidence and experts conclusions, should have been different.”
Kaplan was arrested shortly after the crash and bonded out of the Boone County Jail within two hours.
He called his father, David Kaplan, instead of 911 after the crash and waited for his father to arrive before calling police, according to court records. Emergency responders said they found Kaplan in his father’s vehicle and Dupler on the ground near the driver’s side of the Ford Explorer at County Road 300 South (also called 146th Street), just west of U.S. 421.
In all, Jack Kaplan was at the site nearly an hour before help arrived, police said. It took 26 minutes from the time he called David Kaplan to when David called 911. Investigators estimate David and Jack had about 20 minutes alone at the crash site before emergency responders arrived within seven minutes of his call, police said.
Kaplan told police he and Dupler had been at an Indianapolis sports bar to watch a baseball game and had food, beer and a shot of alcohol, and then went to Marsh for snacks. Police concluded that Dupler bought bourbon at Marsh and both men had a swig before leaving the store grounds.
Kaplan told police he thought he was too drunk to drive and insisted that Dupler drive from the Marsh store, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Dupler was taken to St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, a trauma center. He died there, an estimated 2 ½ hours after the crash. The attending physician’s assessment said Dupler had several injuries, including a non-survivable traumatic head injury.
The doctor reported that Dupler was rendered unconscious by the crash and remained unconscious until lifesaving attempts ceased. She said it was “highly unlikely” that based on Dupler’s injuries he would have been able to extricate himself from the vehicle.
“This has been the most difficult case in my 20-plus years as a prosecutor,” Eastwood said. “There are a lot of suspicious things that happened that night, a lot of unanswered questions. But suspicions and unanswered questions don’t equal probable cause.”