The opening day of the trial charging a 24-year-old man with the May 28, 2015, highway crash that claimed the lives of an Ardmore man and a Marietta teenager included tears and grins Monday.
Following a morning of impaneling the six-men/six women jury, District Attorney Craig Ladd began calling the state’s witnesses in the Carter County District Court case charging Dakota Stewart with two counts of first-degree manslaughter and unlawful possession of methamphetamine. Jurors first heard testimony from the lone eye witness to the crash on U.S. Highway 77, 5 miles south of Ardmore. The witnesses said she was following the 2004 Chevrolet pickup Stewart is accused of piloting when she saw the northbound truck drift into the southbound lanes, causing a southbound van to “T-bone,” the truck.
Shackled and wearing the orange jumpsuit of a Carter County Detention Center inmate, Brittany Carmon was the second witness to be called. Described as an unwilling material witnesses, the Marietta woman shuffled into the courtroom smiling and telling Stewart “I love you,” as she passed him sitting at the defense table. Carmon confirmed she and Stewart were together at a relative’s Love County home on the night of May 27. She also confirmed the pair had consumed methamphetamine. But she insisted Stewart “seemed normal” when he agreed to drive her and her three children, ages 4, 5 and 8, to Ardmore to grocery shop the next morning. As they prepared to leave a local teenager asked for a ride and she said Stewart agreed to let the 17-year-old accompany them.
Carmon described the trip as rainy and between bouts of tears, grins and looks at the defendant she claimed the teenager, not Stewart, was responsible for the left of center crash. The woman said the truck hydroplaned. Stewart was bringing the truck under control, but the teen grabbed the wheel sending it into the southbound lanes.
“He (teenager) was really high — sweating,” she said. “We started to flip.”
It was then she said Stewart performed a superhuman act, jumping from behind the wheel of the pickup and into the back seat to shield the body of one of her children.
However, her only explanation as to why she never told OHP troopers the story of Stewart’s action during the subsequent investigation was, “I did not really recall anything.” Nor did she mention the front seat/back seat maneuver to District Attorney Investigator Marc Sanders during a November interview.
Capt. Dave Thomason and Capt. Chad Mansfield, Ardmore Fire Department, followed Carmon to the witnesses stand. Both offered testimony that refuted the woman’s claims concerning the circumstances of the crash, Thomason told jurors, “I was fixing to start my day off,” when he spotted the crash about 9 a.m. as he was driving south on U.S. 77. As an EMT, he said he alerted emergency responders and started to render aid. Thomason said he determined the driver of the van was deceased and went to the pickup to assess the situation. Here’s what he said he found:
• Two males in the front seat. A passenger wearing a seatbelt and Stewart, who “logically” would have been the driver, slumped against the passenger
• Four people — an adult female and three children in the rear seat
Not able to reach the two men in the front seat of the overturned truck, Thomason said he was able to extricate the children and Carmon.
Mansfield testified AFD responded to provide mutual aid. Firefighters arriving at the scene saw Thomason treating the children and the woman. Mansfield said firefighters determined the male passenger in the front of the truck was deceased.
“The smaller male, who was laying on top of the passenger, was alive. He (defendant) was consistent with being the driver. His feet were forward and his head was (titled) back,” he said, adding Stewart, was extricated.
A number of Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers also testified Monday as the trial continued past 5 p.m. The group talked about (finding methamphetamine) in the truck and seeking blood samples from Stewart, who had been critically injured along with Carmon and children, to determine if he had been intoxicated. Troopers also described the techniques used to determine exactly how the crash occurred.
The trial continues today.