LANCASTER – Nearly two years after the car crash that killed two local Walmart employees on their way home from work, the man accused of driving drunk and causing the collision is on trial.
Tommie Lee Cole knew that it was dangerous to drink and drive, yet he consciously got behind the wheel after having six beers and caused the collision that killed Jeffrey Gilstrap and Beau Fluker, Deputy District Attorney Edward Wiley told jurors during his opening statements Thursday morning.
Around 2:26 a.m., on Feb. 26, 2012, 26-year-old Fluker and 23-year-old Gilstrap were carpooling home from a late-night work shift at the West Lancaster Walmart, when their vehicle collided with Cole’s vehicle at the intersection of 20th Street West and Avenue J in Lancaster.
In an Antelope Valley courtroom Thursday morning, the prosecutor projected graphic photos from the crash scene onto a courtroom screen. The photos showed Cole’s vehicle with massive front-end damage and the victims’ mangled vehicle on its roof on a wet street. The evidence will show that the collision caused the victims’ vehicle to flip into the air and come down on a fire hydrant with such force that the hydrant “snapped off at its base,” Wiley told the jury.
The evidence would also reveal that a blood alcohol test conducted 56 minutes after the crash put Cole’s BAC at .21, nearly three times the legal limit, Wiley said.
Wiley said he would be calling more than a dozen witnesses to the stand during the trial. The evidence would include Cole’s driving record, that showed a DUI arrest in 2009, and Cole’s video-taped admission that he “most definitely” knew that it was dangerous to drink and drive.
“That is why this is an implied malice [murder] case,” Wiley told the jury.
But defense attorney, Robert Nadler, signaled that he would call into question which car had the green light at the time of the crash. He said a civilian witness would testify that the victims’ vehicle was traveling between 60-70 miles per hour on the 45 mph road.
Nadler said the case was about two cars traveling at similar speeds that both entered the intersection at the same time, and there was a difference of opinion as to who had the green light. Cole’s video-taped interview with investigators, in the hours after the crash, showed Cole was forthcoming and cooperative with investigators, Nadler said.
Cole, now 27, is charged with two counts of second degree murder, two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, two counts of driving under the influence and causing injury, and two counts of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or greater and causing injury, court records show.
He has been in custody since his arrest on Feb. 26, 2012. The trial continues tomorrow at Antelope Valley courthouse.
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