Public Safety

Defense expert disputes accident reconstructionist's theory on location of cell in Furne's truck

Keith Furne speaks with his attorney Alfred Willett during his trial at the Story County Courthouse in Nevada, Iowa, on Thursday, April 12, 2018. Furne is charged with reckless driving resulting in serious injury and two counts of homicide by vehicle in the 2016 vehicle crash that killed Selena Apodaca, 16, Isabella Severson, 13, and seriously injured their mother Jennifer Perez and her other daughters, Elysia Severson, 14, and a 4-year-old. Furne is accused of texting while driving causing the crash resulting in the deaths and injuries. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Keith Furne speaks with his attorney Alfred Willett during his trial at the Story County Courthouse in Nevada, Iowa, on Thursday, April 12, 2018. Furne is charged with reckless driving resulting in serious injury and two counts of homicide by vehicle in the 2016 vehicle crash that killed Selena Apodaca, 16, Isabella Severson, 13, and seriously injured their mother Jennifer Perez and her other daughters, Elysia Severson, 14, and a 4-year-old. Furne is accused of texting while driving causing the crash resulting in the deaths and injuries. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

NEVADA — A physics professor, testifying for the defense Tuesday, said it was more likely that Keith Furne’s cellphone may have been in his truck’s cup holder, as defense claims, based on where the phone was found after Furne crashed into a Chevrolet Aveo, killing two teens and injuring another in 2016.

Coe College Prof. Steven Feller admitted he couldn’t give an opinion based on a “reasonable degree of scientific certainty” regarding how Furne’s cellphone ended up on the back floor board of his Silverado pickup after striking the Aveo on Nov. 3, 2016.

However, Feller did conclude that a theory offered by an accident Reconstructionist, Linn County Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Egli, testifying for the prosecution, which involved Furne holding his cell and texting, was less likely than Feller’s opinion. Feller said he based his opinion on the “mechanics” or motion of objects in Furne’s truck after the crash.

Furne, 35, of Cedar Rapids, is charged with reckless driving resulting in serious injury and two counts of homicide by vehicle. The trial, which started a week ago, was moved from Linn County to Story County because of pretrial publicity.

The prosecution rested Monday and the defense rested Tuesday after calling three witnesses. Closing arguments start 9 a.m. Wednesday.

According to trial testimony, Furne was texting up until the moment he crashed his Silverado, going 60 mph, into the stopped Aveo, killing passengers, sisters Selena Apodaca, 16, and Isabella Severson, 13, and seriously injuring another sister, Elysia Severson, 14.

The Silverago also struck a Dodge truck, which was stopped in front of the Aveo, waiting to turn left on County Home Road and North Troy Road about 3:41 p.m. that day.

The girls’ mother, Jennifer Perez, was driving her three teens and her other 4-year-old home from day care and school that afternoon, according to testimony.

The defense doesn’t deny that Furne unintentionally caused the two deaths and injuries but is arguing Furne’s vision was affected by the sun and hills along the road. Furne also denies texting at the time of the crash and argues his actions don’t meet the “reckless manner” required for conviction on the charges.

Egli testified Monday that based on his investigation and training, Furne had the cellphone in his right hand texting and when the air bag deployed upon impact, the phone was thrust over his left shoulder, chipping the back window of the truck and falling to the floorboard behind the driver’s seat, where authorities found it.

Furne told police he “probably” was texting, but then said he didn’t remember and he thought his cell was in a cup holder at time of crash, according to previous testimony.  

Feller admitted Tuesday it was difficult to “know the precise movement of objects in truck,” even after reviewing Egli’s report, all the law enforcement reports, depositions and the crash data retrieval system report.  

At the moment of impact, everything is going to go forward, Feller said. Objects on the passenger seat might hit the dashboard and could drop to the floor or go up in the air. It all depends on how the crash occurred, he said.   

Feller said it’s possible that if Furne was holding the cell in his right hand, it could propel to the back when the air bag deployed and land on the floor board. But for the cell to go over Furne’s left shoulder, as Egli said, it’s more likely it would go over or out from his right shoulder to land behind driver’s side.  

“I am not saying the theory is impossible but it’s less likely,” Feller added.

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks on cross examination asked if he was trained in accident reconstruction and Feller admitted his wasn’t.

Maybanks also asked if Feller had been asked to look at the back window chip because Feller had written some papers on glass.

Feller said he wasn’t asked.  

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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