Lawyer: Driver accused in crash not drunk (photos)
CLIFTON PARK Dennis Drue’s lawyer maintains Drue wasn’t drunk when he was involved in a horrific Northway crash that killed two popular Shenendehowa High School athletes last weekend.
Attorney Stephen Coffey, who was retained Monday by Drue, didn’t deny that his client had consumed alcohol on the evening of the accident. But he declined to comment on any of the events leading up to Saturday’s fatal collision, other than to say Drue was not intoxicated.
“He was not drunk at the time of the accident,” Coffey said Wednesday.
Much like the community that has remained focused on the tragic crash, Coffey said he and his client will need to wait for the state police investigation to wrap up before discussing the accident. He said the crash has left Drue understandably rattled.
“He’s absolutely devastated by this,” he said.
Eyewitness accounts given to police indicated that Drue, 22, was speeding in a 2004 Volvo in the far left northbound lane of the highway when he abruptly moved across the middle lane and into the far right lane. The Volvo then clipped the rear of a 2000 Ford Explorer being driven by 17-year-old Chris Stewart in that lane, causing it to flip several times before coming to rest on the side of the highway.
Stewart, who was a captain of the Shenendehowa football team, was killed in the crash. Deanna Rivers, a 17-year-old Shen softball player who was a passenger in the back seat, was flung from the wreck and also died.
Stewart’s girlfriend of more than a year — 17-year-old Shaker High School senior Bailey Wind — suffered a serious neck injury in the crash. Matt Hardy, a 17-year-old teammate of Stewart who was dating Rivers, was also partially thrown from the vehicle and sustained several broken bones.
Hardy amazed classmates when he made a heartfelt appearance at a candlelight vigil for his classmates at the high school football field Tuesday evening, but he returned to Albany Medical Center afterward and remained there Wednesday. Wind returned home Wednesday, though, just days after some of her classmates feared she may be hospitalized for weeks, if not longer.
A picture posted Wednesday evening on Twitter shows the injured teen in a neck brace and hospital gown giving a thumbs up with a friend. In a comment for her circulated by her friends on the social media site, she offered thanks for the overwhelming support she’s received since the accident.
“I appreciate everyone’s support so much,” she said in the succinct message, “god bless you all I’m hanging in there.”
Saratoga County prosecutors met with both students and their families. They continue to await the results of a blood test, however, before deciding what charges will be lodged against Drue.
“While we all certainly want answers quickly, we can’t charge based on emotion or an artificial timetable,” District Attorney James Murphy III said Wednesday. “We can only charge based on facts and evidence that the police determine from the investigation.”
Investigators performed an alcohol screening on Drue at the scene that tested positive. Blood drawn from him while he was being treated for minor injuries at Ellis Hospital is now being examined by technicians at the state police crime lab in Albany.
Murphy said he’s asked the lab to analyze Drue’s blood for the presence of drugs as well as alcohol. No results are expected until Friday at the earliest.
Drue, who is attending Siena College, was known as Dennis Toomer until changing his name several years ago. As Dennis Toomer, he had a 2008 arrest for marijuana possession and resisting arrest in Albany County, according to records with the Sheriff’s Office; the resolution of that case was unclear Wednesday.
Other details of his life emerged from acquaintances. Some said he has a young child and a girlfriend who is due to give birth shortly.
Meanwhile, thousands turned out for Rivers’ wake at St. Edward the Confessor Church in Clifton Park. The massive sanctuary was filled with mourners, some who waited more than an hour to pay their respects to the family.
Rivers, who celebrated her 17th birthday last week, was a second baseman with Shenendehowa’s varsity softball team and was dating Hardy. She was planning to attend the College of Saint Rose in Albany next year and hoped to become a teacher.
Some vehicles parked at the church had windows painted with the names of Rivers and Stewart in green and white. One had their respective jersey numbers — 19 and 69 — painted by the words “forever in our hearts.”
The wake was broadly attended by the Shenendehowa community, including dozens of teachers from throughout the district. One middle school teacher, who taught Rivers for a year but declined to give her name, described the teen as someone who seemed destined for good things.
“She was an all-American girl,” she said after leaving the sanctuary. “I was sure she was going to grow up and be someone beautiful.”
Services for Rivers are scheduled for 10 a.m. today at St. Edward the Confessor Church and will be followed by burial in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Mechanicville.
Calling hours for Stewart are scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Corpus Christi Church in Round Lake. A memorial Mass is scheduled for Saturday.