New trial date set in fatal distracted driving case

ST. GEORGE – A court case involving an automotive homicide, allegedly caused by the defendant texting while driving, was scheduled for a five-day jury trial in Fifth District Court Wednesday.

The defendant, Carla Lynn Brennan, is accused of causing the death of one person and severely injuring another in the March 2013 incident. She was subsequently charged with second-degree automotive homicide and pleaded not guilty March 19.

A five-day trial was originally set for October, and a motion to delay the trial was initially denied by the court. However, the trial was ultimately continued so an expert hired by the defense could have adequate time to review cellular phone tower data related to the incident.

Brennan appeared with attorney Aric Cramer before Fifth District Judge G. Michael Westfall Wednesday, for a status review of the case.

We do need to set this for five days so we can move this case forward,” Cramer said.

Cramer also said the defense’s expert was analyzing the cellular tower data, the results of which would be shared with the prosecution accordingly. The data report will be ready before the jury trial, he said. Westfall set the jury trial for July 14-17.

Ariel Taylor, Cramer’s partner, said the cellular tower data would help pinpoint when and where the mobile phones connected to the case were in use.

Westfall asked the defense if they thought the trial really would take five days, to which Cramer replied he believed jury selection itself would take an entire day.

“It’s a very fact-intensive case,” he said. The jury will need to be aware that Brennan is being tried by the state’s distracting driving law that existed before it was amended in 2014 with stricter penalties.

Also, due to the extensive media attention Brennan’s case has drawn since the original incident, Cramer said prospective jurors may have to answer a questionnaire in order to help root out potential bias created by previous media exposure.

In a previous court hearing, the defense said the court may need to create a sizable jury selection pool – about 70-90 people – in order to fill the needed seats and standbys.

“That’s why I think it’s going to take five days,” Cramer said.

Brennan is accused of allegedly texting on her cell phone while not paying attention to her driving on Dixie Drive in St. George on March 4, 2013.

Her vehicle reportedly rear-ended the vehicle in front of her, causing it to swerve to the side and run onto the sidewalk and hit David and Leslee Henson. David was killed while Leslee was left with severe injuries from which she has since recovered.

In the wake of the tragic event, the Henson family started an anti-texting initiative that ultimately went statewide and led to the passage of a strict anti-texting/distracted driving law that took effect May 2014.

The amended law, sponsored be Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, is being challenged in the Utah Legislature by Rep. Jacob L. Anderegg, R-Lehi, who believes the new law is too strict.

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1 Comment

  • Anon February 5, 2015 at 8:32 am

    I don’t think that it can be pinpoint-ed unless the phone user’s GPS was on. Otherwise, about the most they can tell you is what cell tower it connected to. That will give them a general area, but not a pin-point spot. I think that a better method would have been to subpoena the cell phone carrier for their records. A time would have been better.

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