Expert testifies: Injuries support allegations that suspect was driving vehicle in fatal 2018 crash

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May 20—EBENSBURG — Pittsburgh-based biomechanist Andrew Rentschler told jurors Thursday that he believes that Chase Edward Turner, 30, was the driver of the 2009 Dodge Ram pickup truck that police say was responsible for a wrong-way collision on U.S. Route 219 that took the life of Olivia C. Red on May 31, 2018.

Turner, of Barboursville, West Virginia, is facing charges including homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

Rentschler — a senior biomechanist at ARCCA in Pittsburgh — specializes in the study of the forces and mechanics involved with injuries to the human body. His analysis was submitted to jurors as expert testimony in accident reconstruction, kinematics and biomechanics.

He was also contacted by the Cambria County District Attorney's Office in 2020 to aid in determining if Turner, Julio Alejos or a supposed designated driver described by Turner to authorities in reports as "some random guy," who Turner claimed had fled the scene following the accident.

Rentschler said that he reviewed photos, reports and medical records during his analysis, combining the data with his knowledge, he posited that Turner's injuries — a shattered talus bone on his right foot along with a fractured heel bone — were consistent with the theory that he was behind the wheel when the front axle of the truck was displaced causing the wheel on the front driver's side to force the floorboard upward against the gas and brake pedals.

"Without even looking at the injuries," Rentschler said, "I would expect that an impact such as this, with enough force to drive that (floorboard) back, and because the occupants were unrestrained, the driver is going to sustain a right-foot injury because their foot is on the pedal and all force is going through that.

"So whoever was driving this vehicle is likely to have an ankle injury."

Testimony offered on Wednesday by Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Adam Hooks included that information extracted from the Dodge's airbag control module showed that the brake pedal on the pickup had not been depressed and that the gas pedal was in use until .2 seconds before the airbag deployed.

Alejos suffered a compression fracture of his T12 vertebrae in the crash.

Neither man was wearing a seat belt, according to police. Evidence presented during the trial has shown that the front seat on the passenger's side was in recline.

That knowledge led Rentschler to share his opinion that Turner's claim of being in the truck's second row of seats was not likely.

Rentschler said that a third occupant would not have been afforded the protection of an airbag. A third occupant situated in the center of the front seat, between the two occupants, would have been ejected out of the vehicle through the windshield.

Rentschler theorized that a passenger in the back seat seated in the middle would have gone through the front two seats and ejected from the vehicle while one sitting behind the driver's seat would have struck the back of the seat with loaded force, deforming the seat.

Photos showing the back of the driver's-side seat show no damage.

Rentschler's time on the stand wrapped up Thursday's testimonials as the prosecution called upon four witnesses to support its claim that Turner was behind the wheel of the 2009 Dodge Ram that was traveling in the wrong direction on Route 219 North before colliding with the white Toyota Camry driven by Red, killing her and seriously injuring passenger Angela Phillips.

The defense opened the day with its cross-examination of Adams Township Police Officer John Heming, who headed the investigation of the crash. During the defense's questioning, Heming's methods of investigation were scrutinized by counsel, implying that Heming hadn't followed through with multiple witnesses who had provided written statements and that he had not thoroughly checked on tips provided by nursing staff at Conemaugh Hospital.

Heming, who said that he had requested DNA analysis of the airbags in the truck, also received inquiries about evidential photos of the interior of Turner's vehicle showing a number of red spots, suspected to be blood and if he had requested further investigation of the markings. He told the defense that he did not ask for fingerprint examination of the steering wheel nor did he test other objects in the truck for fingerprints or try to obtain DNA samples from them.

Cambria County Deputy Coroner Charles Mahon told the jury that the cause of Red's death was blunt force injuries to the chest caused by a motor vehicle accident and that the manner of her death was accidental.

Forensic pathologist Kevin Whaley, of ForensicDx in Windber, confirmed through an autopsy performed on Red that she had suffered multiple blunt-force injuries with fractures on the right side of her ribcage puncturing her heart. During his testimonial he also said that only caffeine was found to be in her system after analysis of a blood specimen.

Agent Jarod Quist of the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, who is trained in cellphone technology and digital evidence extraction, testified that he had reviewed data records from the cellphones of Turner and Alejos in an effort to determine when the Dodge had turned northbound on the southbound lane.

Quist said that using tower information, it could not be determined when the direction had changed.

The trial will resume on Monday in front of Cambria County Judge Patrick T. Kiniry, who instructed the jury to plan on putting in a later day at the courthouse as the trial could possibly reach its conclusion.

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