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Strobridge trial to begin Tuesday

May 22, 2004|By CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

Attorneys in the case involving Brian W. Strobridge met in court for a nearly five-hour pretrial hearing Friday afternoon, discussing whether a statement Strobridge allegedly made to a fellow jail inmate and a urine sample should be allowed in his trial next week.

Strobridge, 39, of Martinsburg, faces three counts of driving under the influence of cocaine causing death. He was driving a dump truck that police allege hit several cars on W.Va. 9 on July 10, 2002, killing three people.

His jury trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

At the pretrial hearing before Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes, Kelvin Salgado testified that Strobridge told him that, at the time of the accident, he was on OxyContin and Xanax and had taken cocaine the night before. Salgado added that Strobridge told him he passed out while driving and awoke to find he'd caused the accident.

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Salgado previously lived next door to Strobridge and both now are inmates at Eastern Regional Jail, he said.

On cross-examination Strobridge's attorney, Robert Stone, asked Salgado about his criminal history and whether coming forward with the purported information about Strobridge was going to help him.

Salgado said he has pleaded guilty to two drug-related offenses in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg and is awaiting sentencing. He said he did not make any immunity deals with Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely.

When asked whether he hoped providing the information would help his case in federal court, Salgado said no and that he came forward to clear his conscience.

Stone retorted by asking Salgado whether his conscience had not been bothering him between the time of the accident and the time Salgado spoke to police in February.

Salgado replied that he did not come forward earlier because he was dealing drugs and did not want to become known to local police officers. Instead, he spoke to investigators after he was arrested and pleaded guilty to the two charges last August, he said.

Wilkes ruled that Salgado can testify at the trial. He said a conversation must have taken place between Salgado and Strobridge, since Salgado knew Strobridge had gone to Venezuela 10 days after the accident. That information previously had not been made public.

Other testimony centered on whether a urine sample Strobridge provided to police on the day of the accident should be admitted as evidence. The sample tested positive for cocaine.

Several City Hospital employees testified about the urine sample, and an employee of the Virginia laboratory that processed the sample took the stand.

Wilkes ruled that the sample can be introduced as evidence.

Also discussed during the hearing was a statement Strobridge made when he was taken into custody on July 24, 2002. After Strobridge asked what he was being charged with and Sgt. Russell Shackelford responded DUI of cocaine, Strobridge said, "That's not possible, there shouldn't have been anything there, I hadn't done anything for a couple days before that," according to court records.

Wilkes ruled that the statement can be used at trial since it was a "spontaneous declaration," rather than something officers elicited.

Wilkes denied a motion made by Stone that "gruesome" photographs taken at the accident site be barred as evidence.

Games-Neely said the photos she intends to show jurors do not depict any of the victims' bodies, but do show white sheets covering them.

Wilkes said Games-Neely can use the photographs since she is required to prove the accident happened.

Even though Stone is not contesting Strobridge was the driver, that cannot be assumed or stipulated at trial, Wilkes said.

A separate motion made by one of the deceased victim's sisters that Games-Neely be recused from prosecuting the case was denied.

Local attorney Kevin Mills, who represents Francis Albertoli, asked on behalf of his client that Games-Neely be removed and a special prosecutor be appointed to handle the case.

Albertoli's sister, Marion Rao, 51, was killed after her Toyota car first was hit by the dump truck. Also killed in the accident were Terry Lee Walker Jr., 17, and Carleton Wilcox, 20, both of whom were in a Jeep Wrangler that was crushed underneath the dump truck.

Mills' motion was based on comments Games-Neely made in and out of the courthouse that convictions for the DUI charges could be difficult to obtain, he said.

"I think a new prosecutor could bring a new view to the case," Mills said.

Games-Neely made the remarks based on the fact that blood drawn from Strobridge the day of the accident was lost. While cocaine only stays in a person's bloodstream for up to eight hours, it can show up in a person's urine three or four days after consumption, Games-Neely has said.

For that reason, a plea bargain was offered to Strobridge in which he agreed to plead guilty to three misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide. Wilkes rejected the plea last month, citing victims' wishes that the case proceed to trial.

None of the deceased victims' family members attended the hearing Friday, but an older couple sat behind Strobridge and occasionally talked with him.

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