ST. GEORGE — The verdict was rendered following the four-day trial of 39-year-old Christopher Weaver, charged with second-degree felony automobile homicide in connection with a 2019 fatal crash on state Route 9 and 6300 West in Hurricane.
The defendant was tried in 5th District Court before District Judge Keith C. Barnes on third-degree felony automobile homicide, a charge that was amended from a second-degree felony. Weaver was also charged with an infraction for speeding.
Washington County prosecutors Jim Weeks and Zachary Weiland represented the state in the case, while Weaver was represented by defense attorney Scott Garrett.
According to the state, on Oct. 11, Weaver was heading to work in a 2017 Ford pickup truck and traveling over 70 mph in a 60 mph zone when he came upon the stopped traffic and failed to stop. When the defendant slammed into the back of a Mazda Hatchback, the impact caused injuries so severe that the driver, 20-year-old Kylie B. Park, of Riverton, died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
A report from the Office of the Medical Examiner concluded that Park died from “multiple blunt force injuries as a result of the traffic accident,” as stated in the charging documents.
The five-vehicle pileup was triggered when the defendant’s pickup struck the Mazda that was pushed into the back of a Chevy Silverado pickup that collided with the back of Toyota Tacoma. The initial impact spun the Mazda into a Toyota Highlander.
According to trial testimony, Park, the victim, was on fall break and was headed to Zion National Park to go hiking on the day of the crash, which ultimately left her unconscious and unable to maintain breathing or a pulse on her own. In fact, she never regained consciousness before she succumbed to her injuries.
The crash analysis was explained during Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Travis McInlay’s testimony, as he went over the accident reconstruction that was conducted following the incident, using information from the original police report, vehicle safety inspection reports, Faro 3-D models of the scene, as well as supplemental reports, photographs of the scene and video captured nearby.
He said the analysis revealed the defendant’s vehicle was traveling at 57 mph when it collided with the back of the Mazda.
The primary issue during the trial was whether the defendant was impaired by the pain medication he was taking when the crash took place.
Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Lars Gardner, one of the troopers on scene that day, also took the stand.
According to his testimony, the defendant was traveling at 72 mph as he headed east on SR-9, until seconds before impact, when he applied the brakes and reduced the truck’s speed. Gardner said when he spoke to the defendant at the hospital, Weaver reportedly told the trooper he was taking no medications at the time of the crash when asked – more than once.
A blood draw that was performed three hours after the crash tested positive for oxycodone, which the defendant had a prescription for, and through testimony given during the trial, it was determined the amount of the drug found in Weaver’s system was at a therapeutic level.
Dr. Tian Liang also testified during the trial and said even at therapeutic levels, oxycodone can still affect motor skills, muscle control and memory, all of which can still cause impairment, even when taken as prescribed. She also went over the amount of the drug that was in the defendant’s system when the analysis was conducted.
During cross examination, Liang confirmed the amount of medication found in the defendant’s system was at the therapeutic level when the test was performed.
Donald Hastie, a nurse practitioner, took the stand and said the defendant showed no signs of abusing the medication he was prescribed for pain management. He also said the defendant suffered a concussion during the crash but was coherent and cooperative while being questioned at the hospital and was not determined to be impaired.
Hastie’s testimony would come into question later on in the trial, when prosecutors revealed the physician continued to prescribe oxycodone and oxymorphone to the defendant even after the crash, according to arguments made by Weiland.
Dr. Douglas Rollins also said the defendant showed no signs of impairment during his review of the audio recordings captured during the police interviews in the emergency room, as well as a review of the physician’s report that stated they were “not concerned with Mr. Weaver’s behavior at all.”
He also mentioned the fact that no field sobriety test was administered following the crash, which also supported his opinion that Weaver showed no signs of impairment following the incident; otherwise, the defendant most likely would have been tested, he said.
According to the state, the defendant had 46 nanograms of oxycodone in his system at the time of the crash and was “weaving all over the road” shortly before impacting the Mazda. In addition, Weeks said motorists reported the Ford weaving so badly that other drivers had backed off completely to allow for the Ford to have plenty of room.
“We know that this atrocious driving did not end there,” Weeks added.
The Ford continued at more than 70 mph as it headed east on SR-9, and even though the defendant was planning on making a left turn at the intersection where the crash would ultimately take place, and despite the flashing light that was activated to alert motorists to the red traffic light up ahead, Weaver’s pickup continued at that speed, Weeks said.
Further, the prosecutor said, instead of merging into the turning lane as he approached the intersection, the driver continued in the travel lane.
“(Weaver) wasn’t where he was supposed to be,” Weeks said.
Instead, the defendant was in the lane directly behind the Mazda, the prosecutor said, where his pickup ultimately struck her vehicle and “took the life of Kylie Park,” he said, adding that Weaver was not in any shape to drive. Weeks also said the state discovered texts on the defendant’s phone that were sent by a family member reminding him to refrain from driving if he had anything in his system that could cause impairment.
Weeks called the defendant’s driving a “gross deviation from the standard of care,” meaning Weaver was aware of the risk inherent in driving with medication in his system, but he drove nonetheless. Every other vehicle involved in the crash was stopped at the red light, Weeks said, as they should have been.
Everyone except the defendant who was heading toward the intersection was alerted to the red light by the flashing sign, and still, the prosecutor said, the defendant continued toward the intersection at more than 70 mph.
One element that Weeks was in agreement with was the defendant’s statement that he had a duty of care to his son to make sure he did not drive with anything in his system that could impair his ability to drive.
“But didn’t he owe that same duty of care to Kylie Parks,” Weeks said. “I submit that he did.”
Defense attorney Scott Garrett also addressed the court and reminded the jury that even the state’s own witness, Liang, could not opine that Weaver was impaired at the time of the crash.
He said the jury was to base their verdict on the evidence submitted, and reminded the jury that the charges were only accusations against his client, adding that speculation had no place in deliberations.
Garrett also said the medication his client was taking was legally prescribed – it was not methamphetamine, as the state had compared it to, and added that while his client did cause an accident, his client’s actions were not criminal.
Instead, he said, his client was going to work just as he had on any other day and was not driving impaired.
During Weiland’s rebuttal, the prosecutor said that even though the medication was legally prescribed, that was still not a defense if that medication caused impairment, which the state contended it did. He also said the defendant knew he was not supposed to be driving if he had anything in his system, based on the text messages obtained prior to trial.
He also said the blood test, taken more than three hours after the crash, showed Weaver’s medication levels were higher than they should have been at that point, and while Weaver did apply the brakes 200 feet prior to impact, he still failed to apply the amount of pressure needed to stop the vehicle, due to his impairment.
Less than three weeks after the crash, the defendant got a refill on his oxymorphone pills, a medication he continued taking even after the incident, he added.
At 4:20 p.m. on Friday, the jury returned and found the defendant guilty of automobile homicide.
Weaver is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 24, following a pre-sentence investigation. He is being held without bail and has remained in custody since he was ordered to turn himself in on June 17.
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