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Island County prosecutor wins on vehicular homicide motions
A deputy prosecutor with the Island County Prosecutor’s Office won the first round of motions in the high-profile case against two Oak Harbor women charged in a Sept. 3 accident that killed three people.
Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock sided with the Deputy Prosecutor David Carman on important, but not-unexpected, defense motions during a hearing last Friday afternoon.
The co-defendants, 20-year-old Jordyn Weichert and 22-year-old Samatha Bowling, appeared in court together, though they sat separated by an attorney. Weichert was charged with three counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of vehicular assault; Bowling is facing three counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault.
Bowling’s attorney, Nancy Neal of Coupeville, made a motion for a change of venue to move the trial to Snohomish County. She argued that Whidbey News-Times articles about the fatal collision and the charges against the two women, along with online comments attached to the stories, create a probability of a prejudiced jury pool in Island County.
Hancock denied the motion.
“Certainly the articles in the Whidbey News-Times were not inflammatory in any way,” Hancock said, but he urged Neal to bring back the issue if there’s difficulty seating a jury.
In addition, Weichert’s attorney, Diego Vargas of Bellevue, made two motions to suppress evidence, but was denied on both.
Vargas also asked the judge to suppress statements that Weichert allegedly made to a state trooper just after the accident. At the hearing, Trooper Jason Nichols testified about his investigation at the accident scene and the hospital, as well as his status as a “drug recognition expert.”
Nichols said he was investigating the accident on Highway 20 on North Whidbey when he spoke to Weichert and Bowling, who were sitting on the side of the road.
Nichols testified that both women told him the accident occurred after Bowling, the front-seat passenger of the Chevrolet Blazer, was holding the steering wheel for Weichert, the driver, while she removed a sweater. Bowling let go of the steering wheel before Weichert was ready, the Blazer started to drift off the road and they both jerked it to the left, sending the vehicle into the oncoming lane where it struck a Subaru, the trooper testified.
Three people were killed, including two passengers in Weichert’s Blazer, 25-year-old Jacob Quistorf of Oak Harbor and 26-year-old Francis Malloy of Oak Harbor. The driver of the other car, 33-year-old Brian Wood of North Vancouver, British Columbia, was also fatally injured.
Wood’s 31-year-old pregnant wife, Erin Wood, was seriously injured, but recovered. Bowling suffered a hip fracture, while Weichert’s injuries were minimal.
In court, Hancock noted that two troopers gave different written accounts of how the accident occurred. One trooper reported Weichert was removing her sweater just prior to the crash, while another reported she was putting on a jacket.
Vargas argued Weichert was in de facto custody by the trooper when she made the statements, so she should have been given Miranda warnings before being questioned. Carman, however, argued that the women were not in custody or under arrest at the time, but that the trooper was simply investigating what had occurred.
Hancock agreed with Carman and ruled that Weichert’s statements to the trooper were admissible.
In addition, Vargas asked the judge to suppress the results of a blood test done on his client, which showed evidence of alleged drug use. He argued that the trooper didn’t have probable cause to believe Weichert was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. But Carman argued that state law allows a blood test in cases of suspected vehicular homicide or vehicular assault, even in cases in which drug or alcohol use isn’t suspected.
Again, Hancock agreed with the prosecution and denied the motion.