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Turner v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

October 23, 2019



          Terry Goodwin Jones, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Pamela Rumpz, Senior Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         On July 26, 2016, while driving his in-laws' truck, appellant Michael Turner crossed the center line and hit Mary Nietch's 2005 Nissan Sentra in a head-on collision. Turner was convicted by a Craighead County Circuit Court jury of battery in the first degree. He was sentenced as a habitual offender to thirty years in prison. On appeal, Turner argues the circuit court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict. We affirm.

         I. Trial Testimony

         Winfred Saffell, chief of police for the Lake City Police Department, testified that he worked the Turner/Nietch accident on July 26, 2016. He arrived six minutes after the wreck and found the front of Nietch's car was "smashed in." Nietch was unconscious and trapped inside the car. Chief Saffell stated that the rear of Nietch's car was hanging off the bridge embankment, and there were no brake marks. According to Chief Saffell, a search warrant was issued for a blood draw on Turner; this blood draw was performed by NEA Hospital and submitted to the Arkansas State Crime Lab. On February 16, 2017, Turner pleaded guilty in district court to driving while intoxicated (DWI), first offense, in connection with this incident.

         Dr. Deborah Cook, an emergency-room doctor at St. Bernard's Hospital, testified that she treated Nietch after the wreck. She was in critical condition when she arrived, was intubated due to respiratory failure after the trauma, and was unable to breathe effectively on her own. Dr. Cook explained Nietch suffered a suspected depressed-scalp fracture in which the bone encasing the brain was fractured and sunken in; a fracture of one of her femur bones; blood behind her eardrum; and broken bones in her lower arm. Dr. Cook said that due to the serious nature of her injuries, Nietch was transferred to St. Vincent Hospital.

         Herb Davis, a first responder from Lake City, testified that when he arrived at the crash scene, he saw Turner lying unconscious on the side of the road. Davis could tell there had been a head-on collision.

         Daniel Haynes, an officer with the Lake City Police Department, testified he prepared the affidavit for the search warrant to draw Turner's blood. Turner's blood was drawn by a registered nurse; when the vials of blood were delivered to Haynes, he sealed the vials in an evidence bag, transported the bag to the police department, placed it in a locked refrigerator, and mailed the vials to the crime lab the next day. Officer Haynes also testified that Turner entered a guilty plea on February 16, 2017, to DWI, first offense.

         Eric Westhafer, an analyst for the Arkansas State Crime Lab, testified he found no alcohol in Turner's blood, but the blood tested positive for benzodiazepines, THC, and methamphetamine. Westhafer explained that the investigating officer did not request a quantitative analysis of the drugs in Turner's system, only a determination of whether there were any drugs in his system. Westhafer said because the drug amounts in Turner's system were unknown, there was nothing to indicate whether he was impaired.

         Dr. Ali Raja, a neurosurgeon at St. Vincent, testified via video that he treated Nietch after her car wreck. He said there were concerns about bleeding on the brain, which was causing too much pressure on Nietch's brain. He explained Nietch's injury was a closed-head injury, which caused swelling in the brain, and there was an intraparenchymal hemorrhage, which meant that the swelling was in the brain matter itself. Dr. Raja stated Nietch underwent emergency surgery to provide more room for her swelling brain; she remained in a coma for several months after the surgery; and she was in critical condition for several weeks.

         Derrick Taylor witnessed the wreck. He said Turner's truck "came up" behind him on the highway, Turner was swerving around cars, and Turner passed him. Taylor testified Turner was traveling at such a high rate of speed it made other drivers look as though they were standing still. Taylor said the wreck occurred about thirty seconds after Turner had passed him.

         Jackie Brewer also witnessed the wreck. Brewer said Turner passed him at the end of the bridge in the passing lane. According to Brewer, he was driving the speed limit, while Turner appeared to be driving much faster. Brewer saw Turner cross ...

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