Public Safety

Testimony in Furne trial: Sun not a factor in causing fatal accident

Investigator also reports finding no brake marks before fatal crash

Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks (left) on Thursday asks Linn County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve McElmeel about photographs McElmeel took of the Nov. 3, 2016, accident on County Home Road that killed two teenagers. The testimony came during the trial of Keith Furne, 35, of Cedar Rapids, who is being tried this week in Story County District Court on charges of reckless driving resulting in serious injury and two counts of homicide by vehicle. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks (left) on Thursday asks Linn County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve McElmeel about photographs McElmeel took of the Nov. 3, 2016, accident on County Home Road that killed two teenagers. The testimony came during the trial of Keith Furne, 35, of Cedar Rapids, who is being tried this week in Story County District Court on charges of reckless driving resulting in serious injury and two counts of homicide by vehicle. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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NEVADA, Iowa — An accident reconstructionist testified Thursday that, based on his investigation, the “sun played no role” in visibility when Keith Furne crashed his pickup truck into another car, killing two teens and seriously injuring another on Nov. 3, 2016.

Linn County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve McElmeel said he went out at the same time of day the crash happened but a year later — Nov. 3, 2017 — to view the position of the sun.

Furne told police the sun affected his vision as he was driving west on County Home Road and crashed into a stopped Chevrolet Aveo, driven by Jennifer Perez. Perez had picked up her four daughters from day care and school and was on her way home to Belle Plaine. She had stopped at a stop sign, waiting to turn left onto North Troy Road.  

McElmeel, testifying in the second day of Furne trial, told jurors he conducted his investigation based on the time the 911 call was made, between 3:42 and 3:45 p.m. He also took a video of himself in a vehicle traveling west on County Home Road to North Troy Road. The sun, according to the video and McElmeel’s testimony, was at the “10 o’clock” position as he was facing west.

Furne, 35, of Cedar Rapids, is on trial this week in Story County District Court on charges of reckless driving resulting in serious injury and two counts of homicide by vehicle. The trial was moved out Linn County because of pretrial publicity.

The prosecution contends Furne was texting while driving his Chevrolet Silverado at the time of the crash, which killed Selena Apodaca, 16, and Isabella Severson, 13, and seriously injured Perez and another daughter, Elysia Severson, 14.

The defense doesn’t deny Furne unintentionally caused the two deaths and injuries but is arguing Furne’s vision was impacted by the sun and hills along the road. Furne also denies texting at the time of the crash.

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McElmeel identified photos showing the inside of Furne’s truck after the crash. He said Furne’s sunglasses and a work cellphone were on the front seat and Furne’s personal cellphone was behind the driver’s seat. He testified the truck’s sun visor was flipped up — not down, to block the sun.

First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks asked McElmeel if he’d found any brake marks on the road the day of the crash.

McElmeel said there were no brake marks. There was a tire scuff or transfer mark, which was made as Furne tried to move his truck to one side.

Al Willett, Furne’s lawyer, on cross-examination, asked wasn’t it possible if the sun was in the 10 O’clock position that it would be streaming through the driver’s side window.

McElmeel said it was possible.

Willett also asked if the sunglasses found on the front seat were children’s sunglasses.

“They’re sunglasses,” McElmeel said. “I didn’t check that.”

McElmeel also identified photos taken of the inside of the Aveo after the crash. McElmeel explained the rear of the Aveo was shoved up into passenger seats upon impact.

Perez’s other daughter, Mia, 4, was sitting behind her mother and was pinned between her car seat and the back of the driver’s seat after impact, McElmeel said.

The prosecution didn't get as far in its case as planned because, before testimony began Thursday morning, a juror reported another juror was talking about the case with the rest of the jury, which isn't allowed until deliberations.

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Sixth Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde and the defense lawyers and the prosecutors decided to question each juror individually about what was said and if the juror's comments influenced them and impacted their ability to be fair and impartial.

Before the questioning, the judge and lawyers agreed to dismiss the juror to avoid a mistrial or further incident. The remaining 13 jurors all said the comments didn't influence or affect them and they could be fair and impartial.

The trial continues 8:30 a.m. Friday and is expected to wrap up next week. 

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

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