Fatal crash described to jurors in man’s trial for vehicular homicide

KELSO — Based on crash scene evidence, Frederick Russell was driving on the wrong side of the road at the time of a 2001 multi-vehicle Eastern Washington crash that killed three college students, jurors in Russell’s vehicular homicide trial were told Friday.

David Fenn, the State Patrol’s lead detective in the case, said Russell was driving at least 3 feet over the center line of the two-lane highway.

Fenn added that the evidence showed Russell was traveling “well above” the posted speed limit of 55 mph when he sideswiped a Geo Metro and smashed into a ’70s-era Cadillac containing seven people.

Russell’s SUV brake lines contained brake fluid, and it didn’t look like he hit the brakes just before the wreck. “I would have expected to see at least two to three well-defined skid marks,” Fenn testified. “And I didn’t see that.”

Russell, 28, is on trial on both vehicular homicide and vehicular assault charges. He’s accused of being drunk, speeding, and trying to pass in a no-passing zone when his vehicle was involved in the crash on Highway 270, the highway between the college towns of Pullman and Moscow, Idaho.

Killed in the June 4, 2001, crash were Brandon Clements, 22, of Wapato, a Washington State University senior; and fellow WSU students Stacy Morrow, 21, of Milton, and Ryan Sorensen, 21, of Westport. Three others were badly injured.

Fenn also said skid marks at the scene show Clements, who drove the Cadillac, had tried to get out of Russell’s way.

“To me, it was quite horrific, a huge amount of contact damage,” Fenn said, adding the driver’s side of the Cadillac was “ripped open.”

Jurors have been told that Russell’s medical blood test taken the night of the crash showed a blood-alcohol level of .128. The legal intoxication threshold in Washington is .08.

The volunteer firefighter who treated Russell’s scrapes and traveled with him in the ambulance said the defendant smelled strongly of alcohol.

The odor “was pretty heavy,” the firefighter, Anthony Catt, told jurors Friday.

The defense maintains the crash was a tragic accident.

Russell was on the U.S. Marshals Service’s “Most Wanted” list after he fled to Ireland following his arrest and release in 2001. He was found in 2005 and later extradited to the United States.

Whitman County Superior Court Judge David Frazier is presiding over the trial, which was moved to southwest Washington’s Cowlitz County from Whitman County in southeast Washington because of extensive news coverage.

Prosecutors said they hoped to wrap up their case Monday morning, with defense witnesses to follow.

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