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August 23, 2014

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courts:

Woman who lost legs says driver didn’t try to avoid crash

Man also accused of vehicular homicide in death of woman waiting at bus stop

Stephen Murray Trial - Day One (March 25)

Stephen N. Murray (center) stands with Public Defenders Darin Imlay (left) and Stephen Immerman as the jury enters the courtroom Wednesday, the first day of Murray's trial. Launch slideshow »
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Steven Murray

A woman who lost her legs after a crash at a bus stop last year confronted the driver today in court.

Porsche Hughes, a 26-year-old wife and mother of two who was waiting for the bus to take her to her job as a nursing assistant, said her life changed on a July morning at a bus stop on Boulder Highway when a red Dodge pickup truck driven by 44-year-old Steven Murray rounded the corner, went up on the curb and plowed into her.

Hughes and another woman, Patricia Hoff, were waiting for the bus near the Walgreens store at the intersection of Boulder Highway and Flamingo Road.

Hughes lost her left leg the day of the accident. By the end of the month, her right leg had to be amputated because of injuries she suffered in the wreck.

Hoff, who was waiting for the bus to take her to her job at Lowe's, lost her life.

Steven N. Murray, 44, is facing one charge of vehicular homicide and two charges of driving while under the influence of a controlled substance resulting in an accident with fatality or bodily harm. The vehicular homicide charge can carry a life sentence.

In the course of the collision, the truck collided with Hughes twice. The first impact launched her into the air; the second time, she landed in the street, in the middle of traffic.

Wearing a short-sleeved white blouse and a plaid vest, Hughes wheeled herself across the courtroom and a handicapped lift raised her to the witness box.

She said once she landed in the street, she looked down at her torn nurses scrubs and back toward the bus stop, where she saw part of her scrubs remained there. Then she saw the bone fragments, blood and what was missing of her leg. She began to scream.

"I screamed, I cursed, I cried," she said. She turned to watch the truck as it flipped onto its side.

Hughes testified that Murray made no effort to avoid the crash.

"He looked me dead in my eye up until he hit me," she said. "He did not swerve, there were no other cars in his way -- he accelerated."

In opening arguments today, prosecutor Bruce Nelson outlined the events on the morning of the crash.

Nelson said it was an ordinary Monday morning until 5:36 a.m. That's when Murray allegedly lost control of his truck and crashed into the two women, he said.

He said Murray didn't pass field sobriety tests administered at the scene. He also said Murray told investigators they would find narcotics in his system because the night before he had taken Valium and a variety of Oxycodone. A blood test would later confirm the prescription drugs in his system, Nelson said.

The drugs Murray had in his system -- Percocet and Valium -- aren't illegal, his attorney, Darin Imley, said in his opening argument. Murray had the drugs prescribed to him for pain after a surgery on his back in the 1990s. He would take Valium when he suffered from episodes of stress, Imley said.

There was no alcohol and no illegal drugs in Murray's system, Imley said.

Calling the accident a "horrific tragedy," Imley said although Murray was behind the wheel when the accident happened, the facts the jurors would learn during the trial wouldn't prove him guilty on any of the three charges.

He implored jurors to keep an open mind.

Although prior driving under the influence charges are referenced in court documents, no previous arrests have been mentioned in court.

Amber Ulrich, who was in the Walgreens parking lot at the intersection of Boulder Highway and Flamingo Road with her adult daughter, Julie Merrill, told the jury that the first thing Murray said when he climbed out of his red Dodge pickup truck was, "I'm not drunk."

She told the court that Murray seemed as if he was going to walk away from the scene of the crash until two other witnesses stopped him and asked him to sit near a telephone pole, where he remained until Metro Police arrived.

The truck flipped one-and-a-half times after striking a curb and plowing through the bus stop, police records show.

Merrill echoed her mother's story from the stand, adding that she said she was nine months pregnant at the time and her mother kept her shielded from seeing the victims.

The first witness on the stand today was Adrian Avila, who was driving behind Murray as he turned from Nellis Boulevard onto Flamingo Road and then onto Boulder Highway. Speaking through an interpreter, Avila told the court that the red truck was "driving like a boat, from lane-to-lane."

"I slowed down so he wouldn't hit me," Avila said through the interpreter. He said the driver was going from side-to-side "as if he was drunk."

Avila said he watched as the vehicle bounced onto the curb a few times and crashed into the bus stop. After the wreck, he spoke with Murray and did what he could to help the victims, he said.

He went to the aid of Hughes, and said she tried to hug him. "I was scared. I moved backward because I saw her without legs," he said.

Avila and another man, Kenneth Lucas, spoke to Murray and told him he couldn't leave. It seemed as if he was trying to walk away from the accident, he said.

Lucas had been waiting for the bus to take him to his first day of work. He had stepped away from the bus stop to smoke a cigarette because, he said, he didn't want the smoke to bother the two women who were waiting.

"I saw this red Dodge pickup come by and it just mangled both of them," he said. "I was hysteric. I didn't know what to do. I was helpless."

Lucas said he saw Murray climb out of the truck.

"He came out of the truck and said, 'What happened?' and one of the guys said, 'You caused an accident.'"

Court recessed for the day during the mid-afternoon when a prosecutor had to leave for a family emergency. The trial will resume at 10:15 a.m. Thursday.

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