Public Safety

Defense lawyer says Cedar Rapids client can't be charged with vehicular homicide in 2016 crash because texting and driving law didn't exist

Trial set for April 10

Keith Furne
Keith Furne

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man who police say was texting when he crashed his pickup truck into a vehicle, killing two teens in 2016, claims the prosecution can’t prove the charges because the current law didn’t exist back then.

Prosecutors intend to prove Keith Furne committed vehicular homicide — which is unintentionally causing a death by driving in a “reckless manner” — because he was texting and driving when he hit the other car, Al Willett, Furne’s lawyer, stated in a motion filed last week.

However, Willett said the law making texting while driving illegal, which can be considered as driving in a “reckless” manner, wasn’t adopted until July 1, 2017. The changes in the law cannot be retroactively applied, he said.

Furne, 35, is charged with reckless driving resulting in serious injury and two counts of homicide by vehicle.

Willett also argues in the motion that to prove recklessness for the charge of vehicular homicide, the prosecution must prove the person’s actions must be “obviously dangerous” and he/she should have foreseen the harm.

He said the prosecution can’t show Furne’s actions reach that standard without the new texting law.

According to case law, Willett said, violations of traffic laws alone that may also cause a death, such as someone attempting to pass in a no passing zone, cannot prove vehicular homicide without showing recklessness. But an example of another shows recklessness was found when a person was speeding up to 90 mph and illegally attempted to pass two vehicles with obscured visibility.

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Willett is asking the court for hearing to be set before the trial, which starts April 10 in Story County District Court. The trial was moved based on extensive pretrial publicity and because this case helped the push for the new law to ban texting while driving.

The prosecution hasn’t responded to the motion at this time.

The teens killed in the crash, Selena Apodaca, 16, Isabella Severson, 13, were passengers with their mother, Jennifer Perez of Belle Plaine. Perez, driving a Chevrolet Aveo, was stopped on County Home Road, waiting to turn left onto North Troy Road on Nov. 3, 2016 when Furne’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup hit the back of the Aveo. Perez and her other daughters, Elysia Severson, 14, and a 4-year-old, were also seriously injured.

Furne wasn’t injured and admitted to investigators he was texting before he hit Perez’s car, according to the complaint. Data from his cellphone also showed he had been sending and receiving text messages before the crash and he was drafting another text when the crash occurred, the complaint states.

Authorities said the Crash Data Retrieval box showed Furne was going 60 mph for 2.5 seconds before the impact and that he never braked before the crash.

If convicted, Furne faces up to 25 years in prison.

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

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