(Stillwater, Okla.) — A Freightliner semi-truck driver accused of being under the influence of methamphetamine while he was traveling eastbound in the westbound lane of Highway 33 in a no-passing zone has been ordered to stand trial on a first-degree manslaughter charge in a head-on collision that took the life of the driver of a car in Payne County.
The defendant, Daniel Ray Grimm, 48, of Kansas City, Mo., was arrested in Bolivas, Mo., in April — 18 months after the fatal collision in Payne County, court records show.
Grimm remains in the Payne County Jail on $100,000 bail, which Special District Judge Katherine Thomas refused to reduce at the close of a preliminary hearing last week. The judge ordered Grimm to appear for arraignment in trial court on July 17.
The victim, Shala Martin Smalley, who was driving a Chrysler Sebring, died as a result of the head-on collision in Payne County on Highway 33 west of Karsten Creek Road, to which Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Clancy Williams was dispatched at 10:38 am on Oct. 11, 2013, according to his court testimony Friday.
“The truck went left of center in a no-passing zone and went head-on with the vehicle,” that was pushed a couple hundred feet at least, the trooper testified.
“I believe it went under the semi after impact,” the trooper testified.
“It looks like he (the semi driver) just hit the brakes,” and didn’t try to get back into his lane, the trooper testified.
About seven and one-half hours earlier, the semi-truck driver had run off the road at 2:57 a.m. and hit a light pole on I-35 north of 15th Street in Edmond, OHP Trooper Rick Ellis testified in the preliminary hearing.
“He told me he fell asleep and ran off the road. I believe he (then) went to the Freightliner place. His semi-truck was not drivable – it had a busted radiator. A tow truck had to be called,” according to the trooper, who cited Grimm for inattentive driving resulting in a collision in the Edmond incident.
The trooper testified, “I did not look at his log books,” and saw no sign of drug use in Grimm – emphasizing that he is not a drug recognition expert. He said, “that is a very extensive and exhaustive school.”
OHP Trooper Clay Fredrickson, who said he had investigated close to 2,000 accidents, testified that he responded to the fatal collision near Stillwater on Oct. 11, 2013.
“It appeared the semi did go across the center line into oncoming traffic. He was still in the process of trying to stop the vehicle when the collision occurred,” the trooper testified.
“If there is a fatality crash and one of the drivers is being cited with a violation of law, we are required to do a blood draw under state law,” so the trooper told Grimm he was transporting him to the Stillwater hospital for that test, he testified.
“On the way to the hospital, he nodded off two times. He told me just prior to the (fatal) collision, he was looking for a mileage check on his dash,” the trooper testified.
Grimm told the trooper, “The evening prior, he was in Kansas City, got up, went to the yard, drove on I-35, had another collision in Oklahoma City (area) with a light pole, was towed to Freightliner, picked up a lease truck, stopped at Flying J, had a sandwich, slept an hour, got off at State Highway 33 — he remembered going by Langston,” Fredrickson testified.
That trooper testified on cross-examination he is not a drug recognition expert: “Normally when we see someone on meth, they are agitated,” which he did not observe on Grimm.
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation forensic toxicologist Paul Wallace, who supervises the toxicology lab and is a drug recognition expert instructor, testified that he found methamphetamine in Grimm’s blood.
Wallace said that there are two phases to the effect of the stimulant, methamphetamine, on the body.
“The first phase occurs in recent use – the heart rate is up, the blood pressure is up, the person is restless, agitated, there is high-risk driving.
“In the second phase, occurring after 24 hours or more, there is fatigue – he’s sleepy, drowsy, can’t stay awake,” Wallace testified.
“Methamphetamine can be prescribed by a doctor for narcolepsy, ADHD, 50 to 150 nanograms. Anything over 130 nanograms is considered recreational use,” Wallace testified.
In the case of Grimm, whose blood test showed 288 nanograms of methamphetamine, “this defendant could be in either phase,” Wallace testified.
“With just one blood draw, it is difficult to tell if they’re going up or going down,” Wallace testified.
“Either phase can have detriments to the person,” Wallace testified.
Grimm’s court-appointed defense attorney Sarah Kennedy argued to the judge, “The fact that meth was present in the blood doesn’t mean DUI under drugs at the time of this accident.”
Since the prosecution had filed the first-degree manslaughter charge also in an alternative theory, the defense attorney argued, “they allege a series of events – the statute doesn’t say you can go nine hours earlier – there’s no causal connection to what happened at 11 a.m. that morning.”
The defense maintained that the charge should be negligent homicide, which is a misdemeanor, rather than manslaughter, which is a felony.
However, the prosecutor, Kevin Etherington, successfully argued that there are two phases to methamphetamine’s influence and that Grimm was in the second phase in which a user falls asleep.
“If he was reaching for a log book, his entire truck wouldn’t be in the opposite lane.
“I submit at the time of this crash, the defendant was asleep.
“After the accident, on the way to the hospital, he falls asleep a couple of times. He’s still suffering from the effects in phase two.
“This isn’t reaching for something,” the prosecutor argued.
Ruling in favor of the prosecution, the judge bound over Grimm for trial on a first-degree manslaughter charge “as engaged in the commission of DUI.”
The judge also bound Grimm over for trial on the alternate theory of first-degree manslaughter that he was driving recklessly in the improper lane of traffic.
If convicted of first-degree manslaughter under either theory, Grimm could be given a sentence of four years to life in prison.