Judge allows statements by driver charged in fatal Northway crash
Updated 8:11 p.m.
BALLSTON SPA Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry Scarano ruled statements Dennis Drue made to troopers immediately following a horrific Northway crash that killed two popular Shenendehowa High School students in December will be admissible at his criminal trial later this month.
Scarano ruled Drue, 23, who is accused of aggravated vehicular manslaughter, cannot suppress the statements he made on Dec. 1 to troopers and an emergency medical technician at the scene of the crash and then later as he was being treated at Ellis Hospital. The judge determined Drue, who wasn’t charged until a month after the crash, made spontaneous statements to police before he was read his rights and made willing statements to an investigator questioning him at the hospital afterward.
“The defendant waived his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, and his waiver was knowing and voluntary,” the judge stated in a five-page ruling issued Tuesday. “There is no evidence that said statements were obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights — nor by means of improper conduct which could impair the defendant’s ability to choose whether or not to make said statements nor by means of a promise or statement creating substantial risk of the defendant falsely incriminating himself.”
Scarano also deemed admissible statements Drue made to state police Investigator Rodger Kirsopp on Jan. 4 — the day he was taken into custody. During a pretrial hearing last month, Drue took the stand claiming the trooper had “fabricated” statements — including one where he claimed police simply wanted to “parade” him around for the deaths of Shenendehowa High School seniors Chris Stewart and Diana Rivers.
Steve Coffey, Drue’s attorney, had argued in court that the statements his client made on the three occasions were involuntary. He did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III praised Scarano’s ruling. He said the decision is based on the facts and the U.S. Constitution.
“He agreed with us that the defendant understood his rights,” Murphy said in a statement. “Further, the judge concluded that the statements that fell outside of Miranda rights were spontaneous, not in response to questions by law enforcement, were without provocation or inducement and therefore will be allowed to be heard by a jury.”
Scarano has yet to rule 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. Prosecutors have said the messages show prolonged discussions about drugs, including one in which Drue allegedly told a friend he was ready to smoke a marijuana-filled cigar about eight hours before being involved in the deadly crash.
Drue is scheduled for a Sept. 30 trial on a 59-count indictment charging him with felony aggravated vehicular homicide, among other charges. If convicted, he could face as much as 25 years in prison.
Eyewitness accounts given to police indicated 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 Stewart in that lane, causing it to flip several times before coming to rest on the side of the highway.
Stewart, a 17-year-old captain of the Shenendehowa football team, was killed in the crash. 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, 17-year-old Shaker High School senior Bailey Wind, sustained 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 four were 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 from Exit 8.
Shortly after the crash, Drue told a responding state trooper he thought he hit a patch of black ice. He consented to a preliminary breath test a short time later, and had a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content, Trooper Joseph Germano testified at the hearing last month.
Trooper Michael Tromblee also performed an alcohol screening on Drue, determining his BAC to be 0.068 percent. Tromblee then asked Drue to submit to a blood test, to which he responded “What should I do? My life is over,” the trooper testified.
Kimberly Westcott, an emergency medical technician for Malta Ambulance, testified Drue also asked her whether he should submit to a blood test. She indicated he also discussed having a drink before the accident, but that he didn’t think it had much alcohol in it.
Later, at Ellis, Drue told state police he takes the prescription drug Adderall, but he hadn’t ingested any of the drug or any other drug the night of the crash.
Investigator Kevin Noto testified Drue said, “There is no way you will be able to prove I was texting while driving” after his iPhone was confiscated.