Online comments spur venue change request for deadly North Whidbey crash trial
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
March 11, 2011 · Updated 2:37 PM
A 22-year-old Oak Harbor woman charged in an accident on North Whidbey that killed three people is asking for a change of venue based on newspaper coverage and inflammatory online comments.
Samantha Bowling, who was a front-seat passenger in the Sept. 3 accident, is facing three counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault. Bowling’s co-defendant, 20-year-old Jordyn Weichert, is facing three counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of vehicular assault.
The accident allegedly occurred when Weichert was taking off her sweater and Bowling was holding the steering wheel for her, court documents indicate.
Bowling’s attorney, Nancy Neal of Coupeville, filed a motion for change of venue in Island County Superior Court March 1.
Neal asked that the trial be moved to Snohomish County “on grounds that pretrial publicity is prejudicial to the defendant.”
In the accompanying memorandum, Neal details Whidbey News-Times stories about the fatal accident, as well as Bowling’s arrest in a separate case. All of the stories appear on the News-Times website.
In addition, Neal listed the number of online comments on the story and detailed one online comment made by a person apparently connected to the case. She also filed copies of the stories and a thick packet of the hundreds of comments, the bulk of which are critical of the young women who haven’t been convicted.
“The nature of media disseminated and commentary is inflammatory and emotional,” Neal wrote. “The media attention circulated online reaches an immense portion of the local population as it is the modern method for obtaining information.”
Deputy Prosecutor David Carman said he hasn’t had a chance to study the motion yet, but said it is very likely that he will oppose it. He said that, as a general rule, it is very difficult for the defense to convince a judge of the need for a change of venue.
“It’s much more efficient to have a trial in the venue where the alleged crime occurred,” he said.
Meanwhile, Weichert’s attorney, Diego Vargas of Bellevue, made a motion to suppress the results of the blood tests, which allegedly showed that Weichert tested positive for carboxy-THC, methamphetamine and opiates. He argued that the police didn’t have probable cause to believe that she was guilty of vehicular homicide or vehicular assault at the time the police took her blood.
“The evidence will show that officers and emergency personnel arrived at the scene where the defendant was sitting in the street cradling the head of Francis C. Malloy. The defendant was frantic and distraught,” Vargas wrote.
Vargas explained that Trooper Jason Nichols with the State Patrol placed Weichert under arrest at the hospital for vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.
“However, at no time did Nichols have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that the defendant was under the influence of intoxicants, i. e. drugs or alcohol. Nichols did not observe anything that a reasonable person would construe as indicating the defendant was under the influence of any substance,” Vargas wrote.
Carman said he will oppose the motion to suppress evidence and argue that the trooper had probable cause. He said there’s nothing unusual about such a motion in a case involving allegations of impaired driving.
In addition, Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock granted Vargas’ motion for the public to pay for the defense’s expert witness.
Vargas is hiring Trevor Newbery, an engineer who specializes in vehicular accident reconstruction and failure analysis. Vargas estimated it will cost $5,550 for 30 hours of work.Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.