Trial Gets Underway in Draper Crash Case - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Trial Gets Underway in Draper Crash Case

Posted: Sep 10, 2018 1:37 PM -04:00 Updated:

SUSSEX COUNTY, Del.- A trial related to last year's bicycle crash that led to the death of longtime WBOC owner Thomas Draper got underway Monday in a Delaware courtroom.

Shawn Armstrong is charged by the Delaware Department of Justice with operation of a vehicle causing the death of another person and inattentive driving in connection with the Sept. 7, 2017 crash that occurred outside Milford. 

Early last week, Armstrong rejected a plea deal that would have been to a charge of operation of a vehicle causing the death of another person. In the deal, Armstrong would have been sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for 12 months of probation. That meant if Armstrong violated probation, he could be ordered to serve the rest of his time in prison.

With no plea deal, Armstrong's trial got underway Monday morning in Sussex County Superior Court with jury selection and opening statements. 

In his opening statemens, co-prosecutor Kevin Gardner said, "The devil is in the details." He said this case is all about the details, not the logistics, as no one is contesting that Mr. Draper was hit and eventually died from his injuries.

The prosecution stressed that Mr. Draper was visible while riding wearing a white helmet on a white bike and a yellow vest, on a straight road during the daytime hours. Gardner told the court that the only reason Armstrong hit Mr. Draper was because he "failed to keep a proper lookout." Gardner also referred to Armstrong as "mowing down Mr. Draper with his blue Ford F-150."
Following the crash, Armstrong remained at the scene and called 9-1-1.
Gardner noted that when first responders arrived on the scene, Mr. Draper was unable to speak and could only blink his eyes to indicate yes or no. 
In his opening statement, Armstrong's defense attorney Mike Abram described the accident as a "very serious, very sad set of events" and said the facts are not in dispute. He said Armstrong told state police he saw Mr. Draper, but right before the collision, Mr. Draper went in front of the truck and Armstrong could not avoid him.

Abram said his client went straight to Draper while on the phone with 9-1-1
and followed the dispatcher's instructions. 
"This is not a question of was he seen," Abram said. "It's a question of the actions that happened right after that and whose fault it was...This is more of a math problem than an English question." 
After the jury heard the statements, they were sent to lunch but an exhibit-- a number of photos from the crash scene-- were called into question by the defense. The defense objected to three photos that showed Mr. Draper right after the accident. The state argued that the pictures were relevant because they show Mr. Draper's size, clothing, where he is in reference to the road, his bike and his overall wellbeing."
The defense argued that seeing Mr. Draper in that state could inflate jurors and cause prejudice. Judge agreed with the defense, and admitted the three pictures as exhibits so they are part of the record, but they will not be shown to the jury. Other pictures from the same witness that show the crash but not with Mr. Draper in it were shown to the jury when the trial resumed.
The state rested its case Monday afternoon, after calling four witnesses: three Delaware State Police troopers who responded to the scene, and Curt Esposito, Mr. Draper's longtime cycling partner. Esposito testified that Draper never road in the shoulder and was a "steady, deliberate, and focused rider."
During cross examination, Abram poked holes in a Delaware State Police crash reconstruction map. Abram alleged the map took "artistic liberties" with the condition of the road's shoulder in the map, Abram's point being that Draper could have ridden on the shoulder at some point before going into the main roadway, he alleges, directly in Armstrong's path.
During Monday's testimony, a Delaware State Police trooper testified that there was nothing to implicate Armstrong was impaired at the time of the crash. What's more, the trooper stated cell phone records showed Armstrong was not using it in any way before the accident. The trooper also confirmed speed did not appear to be a factor in the crash. 
Monday afternoon, after the state rested its case, the defense told the judge that Armstrong will testify in his own defense. The defense will also play audio from the 911 call directly following the crash (one trooper testified that Armstrong helped him render medical aid to Draper when he arrived on scene). 
The judge denied the defense's motion to dismiss the trial (a common procedure after the state rests its case). The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday. 


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