Just before midnight on June 27, 2009, a young man climbed behind the wheel of his silver Jeep Cherokee and headed down the Old Las Vegas Highway toward Santa Fe, New Mexico. Back in Santa Fe, a group of teenagers that had been hanging out at Sonic decided to drive to a party in El Dorado, about 20 miles away. They formed a "party train" - a caravan of four cars holding a total of 18 kids, and turned onto the Old Las Vegas Highway.
All of the young drivers in the caravan were 15 or 16 years old and held provisional licenses, meaning that they were not allowed to drive after midnight and they could not drive with more than one other teenager in the car. The lead car in the party train was a red Subaru that held five teenagers.
At approximately 12:09 a.m. on June 28, 2009, on a straightaway on the Old Las Vegas Highway, the red Subaru suddenly swerved at a hard angle into the opposite lane. The silver Jeep smashed into the passenger side of the Subaru in an almost-T-bone fashion. The red Subaru spun out and came to rest against a guard rail. The second car in the party train swerved to avoid the collision and swiped the rear of the Jeep as it bounced back across the yellow line.
The crash was over in milliseconds - literally, in less than the blink of an eye.
The four teenage passengers in the red Subaru were killed instantly and the 15-year-old driver barely clung to life. The driver of the silver Jeep was bounced around, but sustained only minor injuries.
The driver of the silver Jeep was drunk. His blood alcohol level three hours after the crash was .16 - more than twice the legal limit. He told police officers at the scene that he must have "blacked out." The wheels of the Jeep were turned hard to the right, implying that he had been turning back into his own lane at the time of the crash.
The blood alcohol level of the teenage girl driving the red Subaru was 0.00. All the teenagers in the red Subaru were wearing their seat belts.
For 7 days this month, (from 4/12 to 4/18), I was a juror on the trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the driver of the silver Jeep, who was charged with four counts of vehicular homicide and one count of great bodily injury. It was alleged that he had been driving in the wrong lane at the time of the crash, had blacked out, that the red Subaru veered into the other lane to avoid a crash, that the driver of the silver Jeep tried to correct at the last moment and slammed into the Subaru.
The defense stipulated to the defendant's intoxication - that was never in question. The legal question put to the jury was this: "Was the defendant a significant cause of the crash?" If the answer was yes, the verdict would be "Guilty." If the answer was no, or if there were reasonable doubt that the answer was yes, the verdict would be "Not Guilty." To answer this question "yes," the jury had to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving in the wrong lane just prior to the crash.
There were 16 of us on the jury, including four alternates who did not know they were alternates. Immediately following closing arguments, the judge released the alternates and the 12 jurors went to deliberate. I was one of the alternates, so I ultimately did not participate in determining the outcome of this case.
From what I've told you so far, it probably sounds pretty cut and dried. It wasn't. Sure, you could jump ahead and read the end of the story by googling some of the information I've given you here. The case wouldn't be hard to find. Or, you can come back on Monday and Tuesday, when my posts will be "U is for Uncertain," and "V is for Verdict."