Judge moves trial for man charged in vehicular homicide out of Linn County

Change in venue based on extensive pretrial news coverage

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge ruled Friday that the trial for a man charged with vehicular homicide in a fatal crash that killed two teens last year will be moved out of Linn County.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mitchell Turner said he agreed with a lawyer for Keith Furne, 35, charged with two counts of homicide by vehicle and one count of reckless driving resulting in serious injury, that based on pretrial publicity — and the fact that this case spurred a new law to ban texting while driving — selecting a fair and impartial jury would be hindered.

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.

Data from Furne’s cellphone also showed he had been sending and receiving a series of text messages before the crash, the complaint shows, and he was drafting another text when the crash occurred.

Dillon Besser, Furne’s lawyer, pointed out during the hearing that besides the numerous newspaper articles and television reports about the fatality, there also was emotionally based coverage that highlighted Marion students, who were friends of the victims and who went to Des Moines to advocate for the texting and driving bill that became law in July.

The law makes it a primary offense to use a hand-held electronic communications device while operating a vehicle.

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks didn’t resist moving the trial out of Linn, saying all the news and television coverage taken as a whole qualifies as legal grounds for a change of venue, and it would be “prudent” to move it.

Turner said he plans to check with Scott County to see if officials there can accommodate this trial, since the defense suggested it, but if Scott doesn’t work, he will check with Marshall, Poweshiek, Jasper and Dubuque counties.

The trial, set for Jan. 22, may have to change dates, depending on where the trial is moved and how it fits into a new county’s court schedule, Turner noted.

Furne, who has pleaded not guilty and remains free on bond, faces up to 25 years behind bars on both charges if convicted.

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

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