A Cedar Rapids man, charged with vehicular homicide in the fatal crash that killed two teens last November, is asking the court to move his trial out of Linn County based on “extensive” pretrial publicity.
Keith Furne, 35, is charged with two counts of homicide by vehicle and one count of reckless driving resulting in serious injury. A criminal complaint shows Furne was texting when he crashed into the back of a Chevrolet Aveo, driven by Jennifer Perez, of Belle Plaine, who was stopped on County Home Road on Nov. 3, 2016, waiting to turn left onto North Troy Road.
Her children, Selena Apodaca, 16; Elysia Severson, 14; Isabella Severson, 13; and a 4-year-old were all passengers. The crash killed Selena and Isabella, and seriously injured Perez, Elysia and the 4-year-old.
Furne, who was driving a Chevrolet Silverado pickup, wasn’t injured and admitted to investigators he was texting before he hit Perez’s car, according to the complaint.
Al Willett, Furne’s lawyer, said in the motion filed Thursday that the “extensive media coverage has been pervasive and there is a substantial likelihood a fair and impartial jury cannot be preserved without a change of venue in this case.” Willett includes in his motion many online and print newspaper articles and online broadcast and radio stations articles from Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo and the Des Moines area.
Willett points out examples of news articles that could present prejudice against Furne, including articles about Furne admitting to texting while driving and the victims’ families and their friends supporting the texting while driving bill that went into law in July and makes it primary offense. He also cites other emotionally based articles focused on the victims and their families.
The extensive news coverage of the victims and their family and friends makes it more difficult to select jurors who don’t have a connection or haven’t viewed coverage of this case to give Furne a fair trial, Willett said in the motion.
Willett is asking the court to move the trial out of Eastern Iowa and possibly to Scott County District Court in Davenport.
A case management hearing is now set for Oct. 5 in Linn County District Court and a hearing on this motion will be set, along with new trial date, at that time. His trial was previously set for Oct. 2.
The crash data retrieval box on Furne’s truck, along with his cellphone, were obtained through search warrants, according to the complaint. The data box showed Furne was going 60 mph for 2.5 seconds before hitting the Aveo and didn’t brake before the impact, the complaint states.
Data from Furne’s cellphone showed he had been sending and receiving a series of text messages before the crash, the complaint shows. He was drafting another text when the crash occurred.
If Furne is convicted on all charges, he faces up to 10 years in prison on the homicide by vehicle charges and up to five years on the reckless driving charge.
Furne has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains free on bail pending trial.
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