Public Safety

Officer testified Keith Furne was going 60 mph without braking when he crashed into car, killing two teens

Defense argues Furne's vision was affected by sun and hills

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, Iowa — An accident reconstructionist testified Monday that Keith Furne’s pickup was going 60 mph up to half of a second before impact with a Chevrolet Aveo, killing two teenage sisters and injuring another Nov. 3, 2016, in Linn County.

The mileage was based on the crash data retrieval system taken from Furne’s Chevrolet Silverado, Linn County Sheriff’s Deputy Todd Egli said. The system showed Furne didn’t apply his brakes before crashing into the Aveo, which was stopped on County Home Road.

Egli said his investigation also puts the possible time of the crash between 3:41:49 and 3:41:52 p.m., which indicates Furne was texting up to the time of impact.

Egli said the impact time was determined based on the time it took for Furne’s vehicle to stop after impact and the times of the last sent text and another draft text that was saved.  

Furne admitted to authorities he didn’t send any texts after the crash because he couldn’t find his phone, Egli added.

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 last Tuesday, was moved from Linn County to Story County because of pretrial publicity.

The prosecution rested Monday afternoon and the defense started its case. The trial is expected to wrap up Wednesday.  

The prosecution contends Furne was texting when he crashed his Chevrolet Silverado into the Aveo, killing passengers Selena Apodaca, 16, and her sister Isabella Severson, 13, and seriously injuring another sibling Elysia Severson, 14. Their mother, Jennifer Perez, was driving the girls home that day and was stopped, waiting for another truck ahead of her to turn left, when Furne’s pickup struck the Aveo.  

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.

Egli’s theory, based on his investigation and training, is that 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 first told Egli a black cat toy found on the front car seat prevented him from braking. Furne said he couldn’t press the brake because the toy was underneath it. In Furne’s written statement the next day, he says while driving home Nov. 3 he remembers sneezing after looking at the sun and that’s when he hit the Aveo. He doesn’t remember being on the phone.

Egli said Furne didn’t mention the sun Nov. 3 and never mentioned the cat toy in his statement the next day. Egli asked Furne after the crash if he was texting at the times and Furne, hanging his head, said “Yes, probably.”

“I asked are you sure,” Egli said. “He then said he didn’t know.”

Furne also admitted to texting with a man earlier and that he typed the texts, instead of using a talk-to-text feature, Egli said.

Egli again asked Furne if he was texting at time of crash, and Furne again said he didn’t remember.

Egli noted that Furne’s foot still may have been on the gas pedal after impact if he didn’t move his foot. Furne’s Silverado veered right upon impact, but the truck hitting the Aveo was more like a direct rear-end crash. Egli said the Silverado hit the Aveo, which was pushed to the left and then it struck a Dodge pickup, stopped ahead of the Aveo, which was pushed to the right. The Silverado went in between both vehicles and traveled for 670 feet before it stopped.

On cross-examination, Al Willett, Furne’s attorney, asked whether Furne said more than once that he couldn’t remember texting.

Egli said he did.

Willett asked why Egli went back to ask more questions after Furne gave him a statement.

Egli said he thought that Furne “wanted to tell the truth.”

Egli also testified that a field sobriety test and mechanical issues were ruled out as explanations for the crash. Furne passed the sobriety tests, and a mechanic, who testified Friday, said the brakes were working and there were no issues with the Silverado.    

The first witness for the defense, Karl Franzenburg, a criminalist with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, testified that he compared Furne’s cellphone to a smudge on the air bag to see if the cellphone made the mark — as in Egli’s theory. But the air bag mark didn’t come from the cellphone, based on his analysis of the materials in each item, Franzenburg said.      

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

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