Blood Samples Destroyed Before Vehicular Homicide Trial Involving DUI Begins
By: Mary Ann Pekara
After a fatal car accident in 2001 allegedly caused by Fred Russell, blood samples were taken from him to test and compose toxicology reports. Those blood samples have now been destroyed, but not before the state toxicology lab determined that Russell was legally drunk at the time of the accident. Three Washington State University students were killed in the accident and three others were injured.
Washington State toxicologist, Barry Logan testified in court on Monday that there was no wrongdoing in the inadvertent destruction of the blood samples and that no formal investigation had been conducted and one was not necessary. Russell and his attorney are fighting to have the toxicology reports thrown out because, since the blood samples were destroyed, he is unable to have them independently analyzed.
Whitman County, Washington prosecutors had asked the crime lab on two occasions to preserve the blood samples. It was discovered that the samples were missing in February, 2005. Barry Logan testified that he only knew of one other occasion in which blood samples were accidentally destroyed before trial, and that he did not believe this was a deliberate act. He stated that he believed that the lab manager had mistakenly destroyed the samples in 2004.
Russell had left the country after the accident and fled to Ireland before the trial. He was found in Ireland in 2005 and brought back to Washington to stand trial for three counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault in connection with the four car accident.
Russell could face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $50,000 fine for each charge of vehicular manslaughter and ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine for each conviction of vehicular assault.
The blood tests run by the toxicology lab showed Russell's blood alcohol content to be .12. A second test was conducted by a local hospital before the blood samples were destroyed and the results were identical. The legal limit for DUI in Washington and all other states is .08, so both sets of test results show that Russell was intoxicated at the time of the accident.
Prosecutors have argued that even though the blood evidence was destroyed, the defense can only have it thrown out if it was likely to prove innocence. With two blood tests run, and both showing that Russell was legally DUI, the prosecution's argument may hold water.
Additionally, Russell is charged with vehicular homicide, and under the law a suspect does not have to be driving drunk to be convicted. If it is proven that Russell was driving in a reckless way or deliberately showing disregard for the safety of others when the accident happened, he may still be convicted.
Russell's lawyer is concerned about the news coverage regarding this case and has asked that the trial be moved to another county to ensure fairness. He has also challenged the police search in obtaining Russell's medical records.
The judge has not yet ruled on whether or not the blood test results will be suppressed at the trial. It is not yet known when he will announce his decision.