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Police: Driver in fatal bus stop crash was impaired

Updated Thursday, March 26, 2009 | 7:55 p.m.

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Steven Murray

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 »

Metro Police investigators testified Thursday that driver impairment was the main factor in a fatal crash last summer at an eastern Las Vegas Valley bus stop.

William Redfairn, a Metro Police accident investigator, took the stand for about an hour as he walked the jury through the July 7, 2008, collision at a bus stop on Boulder Highway near its intersection with Flamingo Road. The crash left one woman dead and another without her legs.

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. Because Murray has previous convictions for driving under the influence, the charges can carry a life sentence, prosecutors said.

Murray was behind the wheel of a red 2001 Dodge 1500 that hit a curb, rammed into a bus stop and flipped before coming to a rest on its passenger side. Murray climbed out of the truck uninjured. Patricia Hoff, 55, died at the scene. Porsche Hughes, then 26, lost her legs in the crash.

Although prosecutors had hoped to rest their case Thursday, the afternoon instead was spent addressing concerns with the jury.

One juror, presumably frustrated by the amount of time he had been kept waiting, blurted out in front of the others that he felt the court was keeping some of the proceedings a secret. Jurors then were brought in one-by-one for questioning and District Court Judge Michelle Leavitt determined that the group of 14, which includes two alternates, could remain fair and impartial.

With that issue resolved, the courtroom geared up for an afternoon of testimony, but met another snag. A woman who identified herself as a friend of Steven Murray and his wife told a court officer she had spoken with some of the jurors in the hallway and felt they had already made up their minds that Murray was guilty.

It is improper to speak to seated jurors and they wear blue plastic badges to identify themselves while they are in the courtroom. Under oath, the woman recounted a brief conversation she had with three jurors, and the jurors were brought in for questioning.

Murray's attorneys said they felt jurors had begun to dislike their client and moved for a mistrial. Leavitt denied the motion. Prosecutors said the woman intentionally tried to spur a mistrial.

The woman, who identified herself as a third-grade teacher and said she knew the Murrays from church, was banned from the Regional Justice Center for the duration of the trial.

Earlier in the afternoon, the defense had moved to sequester the jury because of the media attention the case has garnered. Attorneys feared jurors would learn of Murray's prior DUI arrests, which won't be discussed in open court. Leavitt denied that motion as well, but following the afternoon's events said she would keep jurors restricted from public areas while they are in the courthouse.

Thursday morning, Metro Police investigators testified as to Murray's condition at the time of the wreck.

On questioning from deputy District Attorney L.J. O'Neale, Redfairn, an accident reconstructionist, said the crash was caused by driver impairment.

Redfairn testified that shortly after the wreck, Murray told him at the scene that after he rounded the corner onto Boulder Highway from Flamingo, he saw a vehicle approaching from the left and thought it was going to sideswipe him. Murray jerked the steering wheel to the right, Redfairn testified.

Redfairn said no physical evidence from the scene or witness statements corroborated Murray's story. He said that based on reconstructing the accident, interviewing witnesses and his own interactions with Murray -- who failed field sobriety tests administered by Redfairn and another officer -- he concluded that driver impairment was the cause of the crash.

Although speed was likely a factor in the wreck, Redfairn said, it wasn't the primary cause.

"I believed the driver was impaired," he said. "... there was no indication that the brakes were used at all."

Metro Police detective Michael Lemley, who is certified to conduct evaluations as to whether a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, said that when he spoke with Murray, the man's speech was slow, raspy and slurred. He said Murray had constricted pupils and had trouble keeping his balance. Redfairn echoed Lemley's description of Murray's pupils and balance.

Redfairn said Murray, an electrician, was concerned about the tools in his truck after the crash. He was on his way to work at the Sam's Town RV Park at the time of the crash, he told investigators.

Witnesses who testified Wednesday said Murray seemed unaware of what had happened when he climbed out of the truck.

"He came out of the truck and said, 'What happened?' and one of the guys said, 'You caused an accident,'" Kenneth Lucas, who witnessed the crash, told the jury.

Before field sobriety tests were conducted, Murray had told police he had taken Valium and a variety of Oxycodone the night before. He told officers he had a back surgery in 1996 but it wouldn't interfere with his participation in the tests.

Murray's lawyers have said that although he did have Percocet and Valium in his system, the drugs didn't cause him to be impaired and were legally prescribed to him. No alcohol or illegal drugs were found in his system.

Murray has been incarcerated at the Clark County Detention Center since his arrest the day of the accident.

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