DPS official says intoxicated driver caused fatal crash on Loop 463

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Dec. 5, 2012 at 6:05 a.m.

A Department of Public Safety trooper reconstructed the scene of a fiery fatal wreck for jurors Wednesday.

Frank Casillas, who conducted the follow-up investigation, said he harbored "no doubts" that Jerry William Cole, 64, was intoxicated on prescription medication when he made a U-turn on Loop 463, also known as U.S. 77, about 4:30 p.m. July 11, 2011.

The deceased, Robert Andrew Morriss Jr., was traveling behind him in a Chevrolet Silverado, and didn't have enough time to react. He struck the front of Cole's rented white Mazda5 SUV. The estimated 46-foot trailer Morriss was towing at the time may have kept the momentum going, crossing into the southbound lanes, sliding on its side and striking some trees. It then erupted into flames, Casillas said.

"He (Cole) told me he had gotten lost and was trying to go to the eye doctor," Casillas said, explaining how Cole stopped on an improved shoulder before he turned, possibly because he missed an exit.

Casillas said Cole admitted during a 30-minute interview about three to four weeks after the accident that he may have taken three Xanax and one Nuvigil about lunch time on July 11. But Casillas didn't know what the appropriate dosage of that medication was, whether "lunch time" to Cole was at noon or 2 p.m., and whether Cole was intoxicated based on the face of a blood report prepared by a DPS lab.

Throughout the trial, defense attorney Keith Weiser questioned Casillas' investigation techniques. He started out by asking why a relatively inexpensive tape recorder wasn't used to take Cole's verbatim, sworn statement.

"He (Cole) actually used the word 'furthermore?'" Weiser said about a passage where Cole said to Casillas that the defendant had "a lot on his mind" the day Morriss was killed. "We're lacking about 27 minutes here."

Weiser's line of questioning about the possible routes Cole could have taken from his daughter's house in Tivoli to the accident site insinuated to jurors that the area may have been confusing to any driver.

"Did you ask him about his familiarity with the rental?" Weiser asked.

Casillas said he interviewed witnesses, family members and pored over research - not Citizens Medical Center reports - before determining police had probable cause to arrest Cole.

Weiser said if Casillas had looked at a nurse's neurological assessment of Cole he'd see the nurse and others on staff described him as a "delightful gentlemen" who was "awake, alert and following commands."

Casillas said he wouldn't know whether they were qualified to make a determination about whether Cole was intoxicated.

"I believe without a doubt that Mr. Cole was under the influence," Casillas said.

Prosecutor Pink Dickens, who declined to comment until after the trial, got Casillas to note to jurors that Cole would've been able to see Morriss' truck in his rear view mirror.

About 10 witnesses testified for the state on Tuesday. The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Thursday before Judge Stephen Williams. Then, Dickens will call a medical examiner to the stand.

Intoxicated manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.



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