Driver guilty in death of 25-year-old Steamboat pedestrian
On Thursday in Douglas County Court, a jury found Jessica Stahl guilty of vehicular-homicide DUI in a car-pedestrian collision that resulted in the death of a 25-year-old Steamboat Springs resident.
Lacey Lewis was killed in the early morning hours of June 16 in Parker. The driver of the vehicle that killed Lewis was Stahl, whose child was in the car at the time of the accident.
The jury also found Stahl guilty of child abuse and fleeing the scene of an accident, as Stahl drove away from the scene at approximately 55 mph when she noticed police trying to wave her down. The jury did not find Stahl guilty of a second-degree assault charge that was part of the case as well.
The jury deliberated from approximately 11 a.m. until almost 4:30 p.m. Thursday. A Wednesday power outage in the courthouse delayed deliberations by a day. The trial had started on Monday.
During closing arguments, the prosecution spoke about how Stahl told two different officers she had not used drugs in years and told another officer she had not used in four days. She later told one of these officers she had been experimenting with fentanyl.
“We know her drug of choice is heroin,” the prosecution said of Stahl. “She’s a daily heroin user.”
Prosecutors reminded the jury that during the first day of the trial, they had heard testimony from Stahl’s mother, whom prosecutors described as fighting “tooth and nail” to deny the statements she previously made to officers about her daughter’s drug use.
Stahl’s mother had testified in court that she has worked with drug and alcohol offenders for the past 10 years and knew what being under the influence looks like, especially when it comes to her own daughter.
Prosecutors pointed out that the following day in court the jury heard the statements that Stahl’s mother had given to officers on June 16 saying that she was sure her daughter was using heroin the day before the accident. The mother told the officers she was concerned about her granddaughter, Stahl’s daughter, being in the car with Stahl behind the wheel.
Prosecutors brought to the jury’s attention the statements given to law enforcement by a witness at the scene of the crime who said that before Stahl hit Lewis, she was weaving and swerving on the road leading up to the intersection where Lewis died.
Statements made by witnesses indicated that Stahl increased the speed of her car from 15 to 20 mph to approximately 55 mph once she saw an officer trying to flag her down after the incident. Law enforcement said they had to drive 75 mph to catch up to Stahl.
After slowing and eventually stopping, Stahl reportedly told officers she had been looking for a place to turn her vehicle around.
Officers on scene reported Stahl exhibiting four out of eight signs of being under the influence during a sobriety walk-and-turn test performed on-site and two out of four signs of being under the influence during the one-leg-stand sobriety test.
An officer on scene said that based on his DUI investigation the night of the accident, he thought Stahl was under the influence of an opioid.
All officers on scene reported seeing Stahl sweating profusely despite the cooler weather conditions that night. One officer noted examining other people on the scene and seeing no one sweating because of heat.
The state of Stahl’s pupils were also noted at this time, as they were “constricted pinpoint pupils.” Law enforcement who were with Stahl for another 3-4 hours afterward said her pupils remained that size.
The prosecution spoke to the jury about the testimony of an expert who analyzed Stahl’s urine test and found traces of drugs that were central nervous system stimulants, such as methamphetamine. The expert said the levels of these central nervous system stimulants shown in Stahl’s urine were indicative of recent daily use or multiple daily use.
The levels of opioid analgesics in Stahl’s urine test indicated heroin use within the last 24 hours. Opioid analgesic levels also demonstrated the usage of a handful of other opioids, hydrocodone and hydromorphone among them, within the last three days.
Drug experts that testified said these narcotics can lead to delayed reaction time and reflexes, and altered perception, sensory reaction and ability to conceptualize or judge time.
In closing arguments, the defense reminded the jury that the urine test performed on Stahl is less accurate than a blood test and could not prove definitively that Stahl had used narcotics that morning. Officers had testified that a blood test could not be performed on Stahl due to her veins, which indicated previous and prolonged drug use.
The defense reminded the jury that distractions at the scene, such as ongoing construction, flashing lights and signs, and myriad reflective materials on vests and cones, could have impacted someone’s vision at the intersection where the accident occurred. The defense reiterated that drone footage taken near the site resulted in unclear video because of the brightness of the reflective materials on the scene.
The defense said it would have been a miracle if any driver could have seen a pedestrian wearing black clothing, which Lewis was wearing that night. The defense alleged Stahl had a moment of confusion due to the distractions and did not know where to go as she approached the intersection. Yet, once she reached the intersection, she had the green light, was driving just under the speed limit, was in the correct lane and had her headlights on.
“Stahl was doing everything a proven driver would do. There is nothing she could have done to prevent the accident,” the defense attorney said. “The only things that could have prevented the accident was if Lewis and her boyfriend had waited for the crosswalk sign to turn on.”
However, the jury disagreed and returned a guilty verdict. Stahl is scheduled to be back in Douglas County court July 28 for her sentencing hearing.
Kit Geary is the county, public safety and education reporter. To reach her, call 970-871-4229 or email her at kgeary@SteamboatPilot.com.
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