National

Driver in fatal crash charged with murder

The 55-year-old driver blamed in a fatal Seward Highway wreck last week had a blood-alcohol level more than four times the legal limit for driving and told police she couldn't remember the collision or even driving at all, according to documents filed in court Tuesday charging her with murder, assault and drunken driving.

Anchorage resident Lori Phillips, who has now been charged with five DUIs in the past 26 years, is facing charges of second-degree murder, first-degree assault, driving under the influence and driving on a revoked license.

"When you drive intoxicated repeatedly, you know well that that could result in someone's death and it is dangerous for everyone on the road, including yourself," police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker said. "You take the totality of the circumstances and she already knew that driving while intoxicated could well result in" the fatal crash last week.

Police say Phillips had been reported as a drunken driver twice in the minutes before her SUV crossed the center line Thursday evening at Potter Marsh, killing Louis James Clement, 23, and critically wounding Joyua Stovall, 29.

Police arriving on scene near Potter Marsh found Phillips reeking of alcohol, with bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, prosecutors say. She failed a field sobriety test and, based on a blood sample taken at Alaska Native Medical Center, police estimated her blood-alcohol level at between .34 and .35, according to an affidavit filed in court by Anchorage police investigator Steve Buchta. The legal limit for driving is .08.

"The officer spoke with Phillips" at the hospital, Buchta wrote. "She said she did not remember driving or the collision. She said she was trying to get to her residence. Phillips admitted to drinking beer."

Phillips was booked into jail over the weekend on a misdemeanor charge of violating the conditions of her release related to a DUI charge from March. Among her bail conditions were that she not drive or drink alcohol.

At a city bail hearing Tuesday, Phillips said she is self-employed and claimed she has started alcohol treatment since her last arrest. She said she had a momentary lapse in judgment when she decided to get behind the wheel last week.

"The only driving I did was when I drove Thursday," a handcuffed Phillips told the judge. "My daughter has continually drove me and she just was not able to do so then. I had an appointment and I shouldn't have gone. I did."

Judge Paul Olson, saying the court had no record of Phillips' treatment, ordered her bail in the misdemeanor case set at $20,000 cash and required a third-party custodian and electronic monitoring. He also ordered her to undergo random alcohol testing.

An attorney representing Phillips at the hearing, James Gould, did not protest those conditions. He did not return a call seeking comment after the murder and assault charges were filed; her bail in that case was set at $100,000.

"The only way to really guarantee that she will not do this is to put her in jail and keep her in jail," Chief Municipal Prosecutor Al Patterson said after the hearing. "Other than that, if she gets out she may borrow somebody's car, she may step into a car and steal it, who knows?"

While the misdemeanor hearing was under way, an APD spokesman was telling reporters that the murder and other more serious charges had been filed. Phillips is due for a court appearance on those charges today.

Police say Phillips had gotten her hair done at Hot Heads hair salon on Arctic Boulevard last Thursday shortly before the wreck. The owner thought Phillips was drunk and physically tried to stop her from driving but called police about 5:30 p.m. after she could not, Buchta wrote.

Police were unable to find her white Ford SUV, but a state worker at the scales south of Potter Marsh soon reported it being driven on the wrong side or the road, going into a ditch and hitting some cones before heading north back into town.

One minute after that report, Phillips crossed the center lane near the Old Seward Highway intersection and hit the Toyota carrying Clement and Stovall, knocking it 50 feet down the road and into a ditch, police say. There was no evidence that Phillips tried to brake, according to police.

According to Buchta's affidavit, Stovall remains in critical condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center with broken arms and legs, a crushed pelvis and internal injuries. Phillips suffered a broken arm and a laceration to her liver, Buchta wrote.

Prosecutors say Phillips, who appeared in court with her right arm in a sling, was stumbling drunk when police arrived on the scene. According to Cornell University numbers, a BAC of .35 is similar to surgical anesthesia and most people lose consciousness at .40. A BAC of .45 is fatal in about half the population.

But a number of factors can influence the effects of alcohol, including body weight, metabolism and tolerance, said Soren Threadgill, division chief with the Anchorage Fire Department. Most people who drink lightly probably couldn't get to .35 without vomiting and passing out, he said.

"Someone that's an experienced drinker could get to that level and maybe even function -- not on a high level, but they can function on getting the car down the road," Threadgill said.

City prosecutor Jennifer Messick said in court Tuesday that repeated attempts over the years to get Phillips to sober up have failed. Phillips has had numerous contacts with police and in each instance had been drinking or was drunk -- sometimes blacked out or passed out, Messick said.

"We need to keep people in this community safe," Messick said. "This isn't about punishing her. This isn't about deterring her. This is about preventing her from driving, preventing her from drinking, quite simply."

Phillips had been charged with driving under the influence in 1983 in Alaska and in 1986 in Washington. She was more recently charged with DUI in 2006 and this March in Alaska. In the 2006 case, a citizen reported Phillips sitting incapacitated in a vehicle on Potter Valley Road. When an officer showed up and knocked on the window, she took her foot off the brake and rolled until she crashed into a snowbank. It was 4:30 p.m. and her BAC was .299, Messick said.

Then, in March, someone called police about 1 p.m. to report Phillips had driven her vehicle off the road near Potter Valley Road, she said.

"She ran off the road and got stuck in a ditch," Messick said. "There was a 12 pack of Heineken on the passenger seat, and there was an open bottle on the seat. Beer lids fell out when the officer opened the car door. She couldn't even walk unassisted. She didn't even know that she had had an accident."

At the hearing Tuesday, a representative with Fred's Bail Bonds requested the judge release the $2,500 appearance bond posted in that case because the company no longer had confidence Phillips would comply with her conditions of release. That matter was set for a hearing next week.


Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

Related stories from The Olympian

  Comments