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DUI victim's family learned of death on his birthday

Louis Clement's family kept calling his cell phone on Tuesday, but got no answer. It was Clement's 24th birthday, and his mother and sister filled his voice mail with messages wishing him a happy one.

They didn't know the phone was locked up inside a wrecked red Toyota sedan being held as evidence in a police storage facility.

According to Clement's aunt, Carla Stojanov, only after they got in touch with the family of his girlfriend, Joyua Stovall, did they learn, on his birthday, that he had been dead for five days, killed in a head-on collision police say was caused by a drunken driver on the Seward Highway.

Clement's mother and sister had recently moved from San Diego to Des Moines, Iowa, and police had been unable to reach them, Stojanov said.

Clement, who delivered newspapers and worked at a fast food place, was driving. His passenger was Stovall, a 29-year-old mother of two who works at Costco. She was critically injured in the wreck and remains hospitalized at Providence Alaska Medical Center, said her brother, Jamin Stovall, 30. Her body was shattered, he said, her arms and legs broken and her pelvis fractured.

A potentially fatal blood clot is near her heart, so she has been heavily sedated to keep her from moving. Doctors say she has better than a 50 percent chance of surviving. But she can't talk and doesn't know that Clement, the father of her 1-year-old daughter, Janiece Haline Marie Stovall, is dead.

"The worst news came when I first got (to the hospital) and I had to actually watch her. I actually had to see all the tubes and to find out all the pain she went through and there was absolutely nothing I could do," Jamin Stovall said. "We're just hoping she holds on right now, because they can't do any operations because of the blood clot. If it detaches itself, it could be fatal."

THE WRECK

The couple had been out hunting for an apartment near Dimond Boulevard and apparently decided to take a ride down by the water along Turnagain Arm about 5:50 p.m., Jamin Stovall said.

At that moment, 55-year-old Lori Phillips was heading home from a trip to a Midtown hair salon, according to police. Phillips has a long history of alcohol problems and has, in alcohol treatment, described the feeling she gets while drinking as "like releasing air after holding my breath for too long."

Phillips had been drinking beer and had an estimated blood-alcohol level of .35 when her SUV crossed the center line at Potter Marsh and slammed into the Toyota, according to police.

Phillips now faces her fifth DUI charge since 1983. She was out on bail from a DUI arrest in March and was forbidden to drive or drink alcohol. She stands accused of second-degree murder for the death of Clement and other offenses.

Phillips' daughter, Whitney Phillips, says she was supposed to be her mother's only means of transportation, but Phillips told her she would find her own way to the hair appointment that day.

"I don't know what it was that she was thinking that made her do what she did," Whitney Phillips said. "I wish I did know so I could have prevented it. I think she just felt like her life was out of her own control and she wanted to take that back. It's hard to know that you can't control your own life, you know? And that you can't have the same freedom as everybody else."

Phillips broke her right arm and lacerated her liver in the wreck. She remains jailed with bail set at $100,000.

'MASTER HIDER'

Lori Phillips was born in Fairbanks and went to college at Arizona State University, her daughter said. An accountant by trade, she worked for a local accounting firm years ago before starting with BP, said Laura Kautzman, 56. Kautzman has been friends with Phillips for about 30 years, since her husband and Phillips worked together.

"She was a vibrant, beautiful, intelligent woman," Kautzman said. "Through the years I've seen her maintain that and then over the last few years, without understanding or knowing what was the matter with her, I've just seen her dwindle away."

Kautzman said she knew Phillips had problems, though she hadn't been around her during the serious drinking. She said she knew about some, but not all, of the DUI arrests. Phillips is a very private person who wouldn't divulge what was wrong, Kautzman said.

"I think she was a master hider too," Kautzman said. "Through the years lately, I've tried to get to the bottom of what was going on and just couldn't. She let me in when she wanted to let me in."

Several years ago, Phillips was forced into retirement after a roughly 25-year career at BP for reasons she didn't discuss, Kautzman said. BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said the company does not discuss personnel matters.

Phillips and her daughter live together in a South Anchorage home off Potter Valley Road. The house is valued by the city for tax purposes at more than $600,000. It's always just been the two of them, Whitney said, along with 22 cats. They lived a pretty happy life there, she said. Her mother has always enjoyed a beer or a glass of wine.

"I remember her drinking, but it wasn't excessive," Whitney said. "She wasn't hurting anybody but herself, probably."

About the time her mother left BP, Whitney said, she began having her own problems, which she said she suspects made things worse for her mother. She got two DUIs of her own before she turned 21. She quit going to University of Alaska Anchorage and ended up moving back home with her mother, she said.

As time went by, Whitney said, her mother seemed to depend on alcohol in tough times. And the alcohol caused problems. She recalled her mother missing appointments, finding her passed out or arguing with her.

"It's scary sometimes, you know? But really it just worries me because I want to know what's going on inside her head and she's always been a pretty private person," Whitney said. "People handle their emotions in their own ways and that seems to be the only way that she knew how. It was the best she could do at the time, I guess."

Lori Phillips did not respond to a request for an interview made through the Department of Corrections. In a September letter she wrote as homework in her alcohol treatment, which she began in August, she says alcohol makes her feel strong when she is weak. She's been frustrated because she doesn't have a job and alcohol has caused her health and legal problems. On Christmas Eve last year, Phillips got into the first fight of her life with Kautzman when Kautzman refused to let Phillips drive home after she'd been drinking, she wrote.

POTTER VALLEY REVISITED

Prosecutors say Phillips has had repeated contacts with police in recent years and has been drinking or drunk in every instance. The night of the fatal wreck, she was stumbling drunk, with bloodshot eyes and slurred speech, when police arrived on the scene. Police estimated her blood-alcohol level at .35, more than four times the legal limit for driving.

She had been charged with four DUIs before last week's wreck, but so far only convicted on two, according to prosecutors. She was arrested on a DUI in Juneau in 1983 but pleaded that case down to a traffic offense, according to court records.

Prosecutors say she was convicted on a DUI charge in Washington in 1986. In 2005, she took off when police found her passed out in a vehicle on Potter Valley Road. She crashed the vehicle into a snowbank about 4:30 p.m.; police measured her BAC at .299, according to prosecutors.

In 2006, Phillips was convicted on that charge and the city filed a civil suit seeking to seize her vehicle. That case was dismissed a month later for reasons not immediately known.

In March this year, police arrested Phillips for drunken driving after she drove off the road near Potter Valley Road about 1 p.m. Officers found beer on the seat and Phillips oblivious to her surroundings, thinking she was at home instead of in an ambulance.

That case is still pending.

MISSION REMEMBERS VICTIMS

Royal and Nancy Bidwell, co-founders of Forget Me Not Mission, a nonprofit to fight drunken driving through education, have been following the case. They have set up a fund at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union under Louis Clement's name to help with expenses.

They said they were exasperated to see someone arrested on DUI charges four times still own a vehicle and still out on the road.

"The reason we're so interested in this case is it's just so bizarre," Nancy Bidwell said. "We're going to watch it closely because this is just ridiculous. It's unacceptable."

The victims' families echo those sentiments.

"I don't understand how many DUIs it takes to get someone off the road," Stojanov said. "I hope to God that Joyua pulls through, because (otherwise Phillips will) be looking at a second (murder charge)."

Clement was committed to the family he was starting, said his uncle, Jeff Clement, 46. He had a passion for Harley-Davidsons, his uncle said. "That was one of his goals in life -- was to get a motorcycle and ride it. Never got the chance," he said. "I think he expected to get my old Honda 90 from me, and I probably should have given him that motorcycle, so I feel a little bad about that."

Jamin Stovall said he's been caring for his sister's children since the collision. He said he's glad Phillips is charged with murder and that now she can't hurt anyone else. But he said he is disgusted that she was free and on the road with her criminal history.

"I wish we had the death penalty, truthfully. The death penalty sounds a lot better," Jamin Stovall said. "She took somebody else's life. That's not right. That's something that you can't take back and she's going to go to jail, get three square meals a day and all she has to do is live with it. That's not fair. She's still living but the other person's passed away. And who knows what's going to happen to my little sister?"

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