SUV didn't slow before fatal head-on crash, expert testifies

An expert witness told an Anchorage jury Monday that there is no evidence driver Lori Phillips applied her brakes before her Ford Explorer slammed head-on into a Toyota sedan, killing the other driver and injuring his passenger.

Phillips is charged with second-degree murder, assault, drunken driving, driving without a license, and reckless driving in connection with the Nov. 5, 2009, Seward Highway crash. Prosecutors say her blood-alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit. Louis Clement died in the wreck, and his fiance, Joyua Stovall, suffered debilitating injuries, including numerous broken bones.

Defense lawyer Rex Butler maintains that Phillips is not a murderer. He is trying to get the jury to agree to a lesser charge, such as manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

Scott Skinner, a senior trooper with the Oregon Department of State Police and a collision reconstruction export, testified Monday that he analyzed investigative records and photographs from the crash, and also used data retrieved from the Explorer that another expert analyzed for him. A device on newer vehicles records the speed at the point air bags deploy. The retrieved data showed that Phillips was driving 55 mph -- the speed limit -- when the crash occurred, Skinner testified.

The other vehicle was an older Toyota Camry that didn't have air bags or the recording unit. The other driver braked hard, leaving skid marks on the highway. Skinner calculated the Toyota had slowed to about 26 mph just before the crash. The Explorer knocked it backwards.

"Essentially, the Ford drove through the Toyota in the collision?" prosecutor Clinton Campion asked.

"Yes, the Ford redirected the Toyota is probably a better way to put it," Skinner answered.

The prosecutor played several animated videos created by Skinner's team depicting the crash: a big white SUV plowing into a small red car in an instant.

Also on Monday, orthopedic surgeon Doug Vermillion testified about Stovall's injuries. He's been treating her since the crash, he said. She suffered a broken arm, a cracked pelvis, a broken leg and a severely fractured ankle. She had a chest tube to allow her to breathe.

The first night, he operated on the broken leg and the cracked pelvis. He said she needed to become more stable before additional surgeries but her medical problems prevented that for months. In the meantime, her arm healed crooked, though it is functional, he said. Her ankle became arthritic and caused her great pain. He just recently operated on it, fusing the bones together so that her ankle is stiff, but will work better, he said.

After the doctor testified, the state rested its case.

Butler told Anchorage Superior Court Judge Philip Volland that he didn't yet know whether Phillips will testify in her own defense.

The case is expected to go to- the jury today.

Find Lisa Demer online at or call 257-4390.

Related stories from The Olympian