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Witnesses describe horrific scene after triple fatal hit & run

7:16 PM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
  • Curtis Scott Harper 2012 mugshot taken after hit-and-run charges.
  • Chasity Thornell and her daughter, Ava
  • Nelson Soto Sr.
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Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of Curtis Harper.

Before witnesses began taking the stand, attorneys make their opening arguments.

Prosecutor Sarah Keith showed the jury pictures of the victims.  She called Nelson Soto, Sr. a Good Samaritan, and told the jury that Thornell was giving him a hug for helping them when they were struck.  She said Harper was drinking before the crash, and that the impact was so great, Soto's body flew 123 feet from the car after it was hit.

"I worked a lot of wrecks where adults were in bad situations, but this one kind of put it overboard. Two victims, plus a small fetus, a baby," said KPD officer Jason Gardner, the first officer on the scene of the crash.

The defense painted a different picture of Harper, talking about his plans to go to graduate school.  James Price, Jr. said that Harper had drank some vodka and beer, but was not impaired when the crash happened.  He said the car was not visible from the road, and called the accident "unavoidable."

The jury heard disturbing testimony from people who were at the scene of the crash.  Cody King called 911, and the jury heard the call, where you could hear screaming in the background. 

"Honestly I thought someone was shot. So I was trying to figure out who we needed to protect. That was the first thing that we did. When I realized that no one was shot and was hit by a car, that's when my wife said 'call 911'," King said.

His brother, Clay King, also testified.  Both brothers described seeing three bodies on the ground, including Thornell's unborn child.

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A jury of nine women and six men will determine the fate of a man who is charged with killing three people while driving drunk.

Tuesday morning, attorney's finalized the jury members for the trial of Curtis Scott Harper.  They selected 15 people in all to hear testimony, but only 12 will deliberate the verdict.  Three of them will be named alternates before deliberation.

Court will adjourn for lunch, and opening statements will begin this afternoon.

Previous story
Trial gets underway this week for a man accused in a hit and run accident that killed a pregnant woman and a Good Samaritan.

Curtis Scott Harper is charged with three counts of vehicular homicide, and one count each of DUI, tampering with evidence, and reckless endangerment.

Last May, prosecutors say Harper was driving drunk when he struck and killed 24-year-old Chasity Thornell, who was seven months pregnant, and 45-year-old Nelson Soto Sr.  Thornell was there to help a friend who ran out of gas on Washington Pike.  Soto came out of his home to help the women.

Jury selection got underway Monday morning in Knox County Criminal Court Div. III.  Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz is presiding over the trial.  The judge and attorneys are questioning about 40 potential jurors. The publicity attached to this case is making it difficult to find a jury that has not formed an opinion about the case.

Jury selection will continue Tuesday morning at 10:00 am, then opening statements will likely being sometime on Tuesday.  Judge Leibowitz believes the trial could last into next week.


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