Cambria County jurors in deliberation following closing arguments in fatal wrong-way DUI crash

·3 min read

May 24—EBENSBURG — Following testimony from a pair of prosecution witnesses and closing arguments from the defense and commonwealth, jurors are deliberating on Monday the seven charges facing Chase Edward Turner, who police say was the driver of the 2009 Dodge Ram pickup truck responsible for a wrong-way crash on U.S. Route 219 North that killed Olivia Red and seriously injured Angela Phillips.

Turner, 30, of Barboursville, West Virginia, is charged with the following as a result of the Adams Township crash, which happened in the early minutes of May 31, 2018: Homicide by motor vehicle while driving under the influence, aggravated assault by motor vehicle while driving under the influence, two counts of driving under the influence, two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of falsifying reports to law enforcement agencies.

Turner's defense counsel called no witnesses to the stand on Monday after the prosecution rested its case, but argued to jurors that it was Julio Cesar Alejos, who was with Turner on the evening of May 30, 2018, driving the vehicle after the pair left Quaker Steak & Lube in Richland Township.

While the defense agreed that Turner had lied to officials when he said that a designated driver had fled the scene on foot following the accident, it maintained that Turner wasn't doing so to save himself, but to cover for Alejos.

"You heard testimony from Mr. Alejos," attorney Karen E. Kuebler said. "Mr. Alejos can't remember who was the driver of the car while under oath. We submit that Mr. Turner said that there was a designated driver in an effort to protect his friend, not in an effort to get himself out of trouble."

Throughout the argument, Kuebler refuted the testimony of the prosecution's expert witnesses while also calling out what the defense believed were holes in the investigation process.

Kuebler also reminded jurors that the burden of proof was tasked with prosecutors, and that the commonwealth fell well short.

"It's not our job to prove who is driving this car, it's the commonwealth's job to convince you beyond a reasonable doubt," Kuebler said. "Not 'we think.' Not 'it might be.' Beyond a reasonable doubt."

During the prosecution's closing arguments, Assistant Cambria County District Attorney Kevin Persio asked jurors to use common sense and life experience when determining a verdict, while also contesting that the injuries suffered by Turner and Alejos are consistent with the belief that Turner was driving and that Alejos was reclined while in the front passenger seat.

Persio also told the jury that Turner, who police say had a blood-alcohol concentration of .248% — more than three times the legal limit, didn't intend to commit the crimes that he was charged with when he got behind the wheel, as he is accused of doing, but that the choice he supposedly made comes with consequences.

"It wasn't his intention to cause these injuries," Persio said. "But Olivia Red is dead. He made a choice. He changed the lives of lots of people."

Cambria County Judge Patrick T. Kiniry read his final charge to jurors before sending the group out of the courtroom to convene at approximately 12:56 p.m.