EBENSBURG – A West Virginia man who is accused of causing a fatal wrong-way DUI crash on U.S. Route 219 almost two years ago appeared in Cambria County court on Friday as his attorney presented arguments in support of several pretrial motions.
Chase Edward Turner, 29, of Barboursville, West Virginia, was driving south in the highway’s northbound lanes just after midnight on May 31, 2018, when his pickup truck collided head-on with a Toyota Camry, police have alleged. A Galliker Dairy tractor-trailer that was unable to stop in time then struck the Toyota.
The driver of the Toyota, 20-year-old Olivia Red, was killed, and her passenger, Angela Phillips, was seriously injured.
Turner’s blood alcohol concentration was allegedly measured at .248% after the collision, more than three times the legal limit of .08%. He faces charges including homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment, court records indicate.
But his attorney, Karen E. Kuebler, of the Bellefonte-based firm Manchester & Associates, indicated on Friday that she would argue at trial that Turner wasn’t the one driving his truck when it collided with Red’s car.
“The issue at trial is going to be who was driving the truck at the time of the accident,” Kuebler told Judge Patrick T. Kiniry, who was presiding over Friday’s hearing.
Also in Turner’s pickup truck at the time of the crash was Julio Cesar Alejos, whose blood alcohol concentration was allegedly measured after the crash at .199%. Alejos and Turner had allegedly been drinking together at Quaker Steak & Lube, in Richland Township, shortly before the crash, and investigators were initially unsure which of the two men was driving the pickup when it hit Red’s Toyota.
Turner allegedly told a nurse at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center after the crash that “the Mexican would have been driving,” according to testimony given by Adams Township Police Department Officer John Heming at Turner’s preliminary hearing in November 2018.
Alejos told police that he is unused to drinking hard liquor and that he does not remember the crash, but that Turner does not allow anyone else to drive his truck, Heming testified. Alejos has not been charged in connection with the crash, court records indicate. As of November 2018, he had hired an attorney and was reportedly cooperating with investigators.
Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Adam Hooks testified at Turner’s preliminary hearing that, based on a reconstruction of the crash, he concluded that Turner was operating the pickup when the crash occurred.
On Friday, Kuebler presented arguments in support of various pretrial motions previously filed by the defense, including a motion to suppress some photographs of the crash scene and one of several recorded 911 calls from evidence.
Kuebler also asked for a change of venue from Cambria County because of “pretrial publicity” surrounding the case. She cited news coverage of the case from The Tribune-Democrat and WJAC-TV, Facebook posts referencing the case and the continued activity of the nonprofit LivRed Foundation, which was set up by Red’s family after her death.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Persio told Kiniry that the Commonwealth would agree to several of the defense’s motions, including a motion to bar anyone from wearing “Justice for Olivia” apparel in the Cambria County Courthouse during Turner’s upcoming trial.
Kuebler asked for, and was granted, a continuance of the case in order to give the judge time to consider the defense’s motions. Jury selection in the case had been scheduled to begin on April 2, but now will not begin until June 4. This will be the fifth postponement of the case so far, Kiniry noted.
Turner remains free on $100,000 unsecured bond.