Betsy Swanback

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October 6, 2013
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Defense blames fatal crash on sleep, not drugs

Nathan Howard Stuart should be acquitted in the death of a Myrtle Creek woman because he simply fell asleep before crossing over into her lane last year in Roseburg, a defense attorney said Friday in a closing statement.

Stuart’s four-day bench trial ended with his lawyer, Brook Reinhard, arguing that it was sleep, not drugs, that caused the collision that killed Charlotte Ann Fields, 51. Stuart collided head-on with Fields’ vehicle on Nov. 17, 2012, in the 3800 block of Diamond Lake Boulevard.

Reinhard said the accident could have happened to anyone who drives while sleepy.

Stuart, 23, of Roseburg, is charged with criminally negligent homicide, second-degree manslaughter and driving under the influence of illegal substances.

Douglas County Circuit Judge George Ambrosini adjourned court Friday afternoon without delivering a verdict. He told lawyers he did not know when he will rule.

Before closing statements, a defense witness, forensic mechanical engineer David Karlin, testified Stuart’s Jeep was heading west in the eastbound lane between 62 and 66 mph and that Fields was traveling approximately 35 mph. She veered slightly to the right to try to avoid the Jeep.

The Jeep had been in the eastbound lane for “many seconds” and Fields possibly had an opportunity to avoid Stuart, he said.

Deputy District Attorney Shannon Sullivan objected to the suggestion that Fields was at all responsible for the crash.

During the trial, prosecution witnesses testified that Stuart had a mix of drugs, including methamphetamine, in his system. Police officers reported finding drug paraphernalia in the Jeep and that Stuart showed physical signs of drug use when they talked to him that day at Mercy Medical Center and the Douglas County Jail.

Sullivan said Stuart told police he had been taking drugs for two days and had not slept in that period.

The level of methamphetamine in his blood indicated that he was crashing from a drug high, she said.

“He knew full well he was not in a condition to drive, but he got behind the wheel anyway,” she said.

Sullivan argued that the defense’s position that Stuart was too tired to drive safely didn’t absolve him of guilt.

In his closing statement, Reinhard said that although tests found drugs in Stuart’s blood, it is impossible to tell if these drugs were affecting Stuart at the time of the accident.

A doctor called by the defense said the amount of methamphetamine found in Stuart’s blood was not high enough to affect driving ability, Reinhard said. The testimony contradicted the conclusion of the scientific director of a private laboratory who analyzed Stuart’s blood and said he was under the influence of the drug.

“This is not a case where the drugs themselves caused something to occur,” Reinhard said.

Reinhard said Stuart only started acting oddly when he learned that he had killed someone.

• You can reach reporter Betsy Swanback at 541-957-4208 or by email at

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The News-Review Updated Oct 6, 2013 12:36AM Published Oct 6, 2013 12:36AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.