Robbie Stone was “driving crazy” prior to having a wreck that killed two Effingham County teenagers, one of the survivors of the crash testified Thursday in Stone’s vehicular homicide trial.
Lindsey Buchanan, now 20 years old, was one of five passengers in the 2000 Chevrolet Tracker Stone was driving in the early hours of June 27, 2010. She testified that Stone “was swerving and not driving straight” as the teenagers left a party.
“It just scared all of us,” Buchanan said. “I remember he was laughing at us as we told him to stop.”
Investigators said Stone lost control of the SUV on Stillwell-Clyo Road, and all six people were thrown from the vehicle as it flipped several times. Whitney Newman, 17, died at the scene and Neil Morgan, 17, died three days later at Memorial University Medical Center.
Stone, 21, faces two counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of serious injury by vehicle, one count of reckless driving and one count of weaving over a roadway. He has pled not guilty to the charges.
Stone’s attorney, Michael Classens, acknowledged that “this was a horrible, horrible tragedy,” but said it was an accident by a driver who was distracted by an “extremely intoxicated” passenger. Classens said Morgan was in the passenger seat and “acting up” after having too much to drink at the party, even hanging out the window of the vehicle at one point.
“Robbie Stone, in dealing with the antics of Neil Morgan, lost control,” Classens said in his opening statement. “Robbie had one hand on the wheel while his other hand was trying to pull in Neil.”
Two Georgia State Patrol troopers testified that Stone told them the SUV swerved after Morgan grabbed the steering wheel. He gave that explanation to J.R. Mock in an ambulance at the scene of the accident and again to Scott Fisher a few hours later at the hospital.
However, Mock said he questioned Stone’s story when he saw the reaction by one of the other injured teenagers, Kristin Westenbarger, who was in the ambulance with Stone.
“I noticed she was shaking her head ‘no’” as Stone gave his statement, Mock testified. Mock said he later spoke to Westenbarger and “she told me that Mr. Stone himself was jerking the steering wheel back-and-forth and driving erratically.”
Buchanan corroborated the testimony that Morgan was intoxicated but said his behavior did not cause Stone’s reckless driving.
“Neil was acting crazy and hanging out the window, but Robbie was not driving like he should,” Buchanan said. “We were all freaking out.”
Buchanan said she suffered broken collarbones, broken ribs, a torn lung and “a bunch of scars from road rash” in the accident. She was one of four girls in the back seat, along with Newman, Westenbarger and Amanda Duff.
“Amanda was worried and I remember telling her, ‘You just have to trust him,’” she said. “The next thing I remember is being at home. I don’t remember crashing.”
On cross-examination, Classens referenced a phone conversation Buchanan had with Fisher in August 2011, saying it conflicted with the testimony she gave on the stand.
“You said to him, ‘I know I said something to Kristin because she was scared.’ And today you say it was Amanda,” Classens said. “You really don’t remember much, do you?”
Buchanan replied, “She was sitting right next to me. She was in on the whole conversation. We were all scared.”
Witnesses testified that Stone was the designated driver for the party, and Classens cited test results that his client had no alcohol or drugs in his system when the crash happened. Also, during Fisher’s testimony about the accident investigation, Classens pointed out that a Tracker, a small SUV, is not equipped to hold six people.
Assistant District Attorney Brian Deal countered by asking Fisher, “Is it not the driver’s responsibility for how many people are in the vehicle?”
“It is,” he answered.
The trial resumes Friday morning at 9 at the Effingham County Courthouse. It will begin with the state calling its final two witnesses, Duff and Westenbarger.