A jury considering the fate of a man charged with driving drunk and causing a fatal crash while fleeing a police officer should decide the case dispassionately, a defense attorney argued Tuesday.
Daniel K. Riggs, 26, faces trial this week on three counts of automobile homicide, a second-degree felony, in the Nov. 14, 1995, crash that killed three people.Prosecutors say Riggs was on probation for alcohol and drug-related charges when he allegedly tried to elude a Utah Highway Patrol trooper while driving a stolen truck.
The truck was traveling about 75 mph when Riggs ran a red light at the intersection of 2200 West and 5400 South and slammed into a Saturn carrying Michael Lambrou and Lonnie James, both 18. Lambrou died at the scene; James died a day later in the hospital. Kevin Smithson, 20, a passenger in the truck driven by Riggs, was also killed.
Defense attorney Susanne Gustin-Furgis asked jurors in her opening statement Tuesday to return guilty verdicts, but on lesser charges.
"We're not here to ask that you not find him responsible for what he did. Danny accepts responsibility, and he will pay dearly for what happened on that night. But he is not guilty of what he has been charged with," she said.
Gustin-Furgis suggested her client, who had a blood-alcohol content of at least 0.12 percent at the time of the crash, was not criminally negligent for the deaths but rather guilty of "simple" negligence.
If jurors agree, they could return convictions on the lesser charges of automobile homicide, a third-degree felony. To do so, the panel must unanimously decide that Riggs failed to exercise that "degree of care that reasonable and prudent persons exercise under like or similar circumstances."
Prosecutor Kenneth R. Updegrove planned Wednesday to show the jury a video of the crash, which was captured by UHP Trooper David Bairett as he tried to catch the speeding truck.
"You're going to be angry, you're going to be horrified. You're going to want to punish Danny, but I'm going to ask you - and the law requires it - that you decide this case without emotion," Gustin-Furgis argued.
She asked the panel to pay attention to the fact that Riggs applied his brakes before entering the intersection and to put his actions in the context of time.
"This wasn't the middle of the day, when traffic is much heavier," she said.
The trial is expected to continue through Thursday. If convicted as charged, Riggs could face three back-to-back terms of one to 15 years in prison.
Third District Judge Anne M. Stirba is presiding.