Driver accused in fatal crash disputes officer’s statements
Drue makes first comments about night teens were killed
BALLSTON SPA In Dennis Drue’s first public comments since the horrific crash that killed two popular Shenendehowa students in January, he accused a state police investigator of fabricating statements on the day of his arrest.
The 23-year-old Halfmoon man took the stand in Saratoga County Court on Friday to dispute three statements Investigator Rodger Kirsopp claimed he made as he was brought from a state police station in Clifton Park to Saratoga County Jail. Drue, who is charged with 52 felonies for allegedly causing the fatal accident, indicated he followed defense attorney Steve Coffey’s advice to remain quiet about the crash and only made small talk with Kirsopp after he was taken into custody Jan. 4.
“I [told Kirsopp] it was an accident,” he said. “That’s all I said.”
“Did you say anything else?” Coffey asked.
“No,” Drue responded assertively. “They were all fabricated statements.”
Kirsopp himself had just been on the stand, recounting his conversations with Drue after his arrest. He said Drue made three distinct and voluntary statements, the first being as the handcuffed man was being escorted to the front seat of his cruiser.
“[Drue] stated that ‘this is bull[expletive], those kids slammed on their brakes. This is just an accident, nothing more. You just need somebody to parade around for their deaths,’ ” Kirsopp recalled.
Kirsopp said Drue also asked him to explain the meaning of “DWAI” — an acronym for driving while ability impaired. When Kirsopp responded that it referred to the presence of drugs, he said Drue bristled and claimed that he “didn’t even smoke that day.”
Kirsopp also said Drue made comments about his car being free of drugs and expressed disbelief that he was being charged with possession of marijuana. A search of Drue’s car after the crash turned up a small amount of marijuana and related paraphernalia.
Prosecutors called a total of five witnesses to testify about statements Drue allegedly made before he was taken into custody and unsolicited remarks they say he uttered after his arrest. Judge Jerry Scarano will now rule on whether those statements can be used against Drue during his trial, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 30.
Scarano will also decide whether roughly 3,000 text messages sent from Drue’s iPhone between mid-October and the days following the crash can be entered as evidence. Assistant District Attorney James Davis said the messages discuss illegal drug sales and include prolonged discussions about drugs, including one in which Drue allegedly tells a friend he wants to “smoke an L” — slang for a marijuana-filled cigar — about eight hours before being involved in the deadly crash.
“It’s at least an indication the defendant used marijuana,” he said during the hearing.
Coffey objected to the admission of the texts, claiming they could influence the jury. He said there would be no way to get a jury to ignore prejudicial texts that depict Drue as a drug dealer.
“This basically becomes a case of the tail wagging the dog,” he said.
Drue is facing a 59-count indictment charging him with felony aggravated vehicular homicide, among other charges. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.
Eyewitness accounts given to police indicated that Drue was speeding in a 2004 Volvo S60 in the far left northbound lane of the Northway 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 Shen 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, 17, Stewart’s teammate and Rivers’ boyfriend, was partially thrown from the vehicle and sustained several broken bones.
The foursome was returning home after watching Siena College’s basketball team play the University at Albany at the Times Union Center. They were en route to Rivers’ home in Halfmoon when the crash occurred, just a short distance away from Exit 8.
Likewise, Drue said he was headed to his home in Halfmoon. He told investigators he was exiting the highway just prior to the crash and suspected he spun out on black ice.
Witnesses testifying during Friday’s hearing recalled Drue talking about slick road conditions during the immediate aftermath of the accident in comments about the cause of the accident. Kimberly Westcott, a volunteer emergency medical technician who treated Drue at the scene, recalled him blaming the crash on a patch of black ice.
“He said he had only one drink and he didn’t think it was a full drink,” she said.
But Westcott also recalled the strong odor of alcohol coming from Drue as she affixed a brace to his neck. Likewise, Trooper Joseph Germano testified that Drue’s appearance and actions didn’t seem to match the small amount of alcohol he claimed consuming before the crash.
Germano said Drue submitted to a preliminary breath test, which showed his blood alcohol content at 0.08 percent — above the legal threshold for driving while intoxicated. He said the reading seemed low, considering how impaired Drue appeared.
“The amount of impairment I observed would have been equal to a higher blood alcohol content,” he said.
Trooper Michael Tromblee testified about giving Drue a preliminary breath test. His reading registered Drue having a BAC of 0.068 percent.
Tromblee said, however, his observations were enough for him to arrest Drue on a DWI charge and read him his Miranda warning. The trooper said he repeated both the DWI and Miranda warnings both at the scene and later at Ellis Hospital as Drue was being treated for minor injuries he sustained in the crash.
Tromblee said he allowed Drue to use his iPhone at Ellis and that the injured man began sending texts to someone named “queen.” Then as he was looking over Drue’s shoulder, Tromblee said, he noticed several text messages that appeared to be sent around the same time of the crash, which prompted him to take the phone into evidence.
“Mr. Drue was quite upset — quite agitated — when we took the phone,” he testified.
Investigator Kevin Noto also recalled Drue’s agitation when he took the stand. Among other things, he said Drue expressed a need to talk with “Phil,” a member of former state Assemblyman George Amedore’s staff, who had dinner with him at Koto Japanese Restaurant in Colonie immediately before the crash.
“He said he needed his phone,” Noto said. “There were things he needed to get off his phone, that he needed to clean his phone … and that he needed to talk to Phil.”
Following the proceeding, Drue elicited a rebuke from the 4th Judicial District after apparently using a rear exit from the court instead of its entrance, where media awaited him outside. District Executive Joanne Haelen said Drue apparently used a door labeled “authorized personnel only” and not available for public use.
“Apparently Mr. Drue disregarded. Certainly we did not authorize that,” she said. “We will certainly caution his counsel to read the signs on the door.”