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Driver heads for trial on auto-homicide charge

Police say woman was drunk, turned in front of the bus

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A woman who police say abruptly turned in front of a school bus while driving drunk, which caused the death of her passenger, is now headed for trial following a preliminary hearing this past week.

Heather Jo Holdman, 33, was charged May 15 with automobile homicide, a third-degree felony, in connection with the death of Terry Lee Stewart.

Holdman was traveling south on Main Street in her Isuzu Trooper when she turned in front of a school bus that was carrying no passengers, police reports said. The bus slammed into the passenger side of Holdman's vehicle, which ultimately killed Stewart, according to police.

Court documents state that Holdman's blood-alcohol level was above Utah's legal limit but do not specify exactly what the level was. She initially was arrested under her married name of Heather Jo Rodriguez but prefers to use her maiden name.

Third District Judge Robin Reese advanced the case toward trial following the hearing Wednesday. Holdman's next court date is Aug. 13 before 3rd District Judge Dennis Fuchs.

Pamala Bowen, who drives buses for the Salt Lake City School District, said in court that she was returning the bus at the end of the day when Holdman's Isuzu Trooper abruptly turned left in front of her. Bowen said she could see no turn signal nor hand signal.

"It appeared they tried to barrel through the traffic and make for a driveway," she said.

Bowen hit the brakes but could not stop her bus from ramming into the other vehicle. After the crash, she contacted her dispatcher to get emergency help, struggled to get a jammed bus door open and got out with a first-aid kit.

Trevor Tallon, a Salt Lake City paramedic, described Holdman as having slurred speech and being "pretty combative," remarks that were echoed by another paramedic and police.

"She had a strong smell of alcohol on her breath," Tallon said.

Another paramedic, Steve Strong, described Holdman as combative and uncooperative, sometimes swearing at the paramedics, and he also noticed a strong smell of alcohol on her breath.

Holdman had a gash on her head, and defense attorney Shannon Romero questioned whether someone with a head injury could be uncooperative because of the injury.

"Absolutely," Strong said.

However, Strong said there were other signs that indicated that perhaps alcohol, rather than an injury, might have produced that behavior, including the condition of Holdman's pupils and the nature of her combativeness. Holdman's behavior "was pretty consistent with an intoxicated individual," he said.

Other testimony suggested Holdman's blood contained two prescription medications to control seizures.

E-MAIL: lindat@desnews.com