The Arlington man accused of driving drunk last year is not responsible for the deaths of the family in a car he hit, his attorney said Wednesday.
Yes, defendant Benjamon Ray Stewart rear-ended the family’s Toyota on Interstate 30, but it was the driver of a second vehicle hauling commercial mowers that caused the deaths, attorney Michael Frederick told a Tarrant County jury as Stewart’s trial began.
Stewart, 43, is charged with intoxication manslaughter in the deaths of Najib Intidam, 40, his wife, Hanane, 27, and their 11-month-old daughter, Nour. Najib Intidam was pronounced dead at the scene of the wreck on July 24, 2013, on the freeway between Eastchase Parkway and Fielder Road. His wife and daughter died soon afterward at an Arlington hospital.
The crash was reported about 2:20 a.m.
The Intidams were observing Ramadan and had been at a mosque at 1700 S. Center St. in Arlington. They were headed to buy groceries to prepare food before sunrise, a relative told the Star-Telegram after the crash. During Ramadan, observant Muslims don’t drink or eat from dawn to sunset.
Stewart, driving a 2004 Dodge Ram, and the Intidams, in a 1995 Toyota, were both eastbound when Stewart rammed the Toyota, police have said.
Prosecutor Katie Woods told the jury that the impact disabled the Toyota in the middle of the freeway, and it no longer looked like a car. The driver of a pickup “hits the vehicle a second time thinking it was debris in the road,” Woods said.
In his opening statement, Frederick said the Toyota did not move for four minutes after the collision.
“Four minutes is an eternity,” Frederick said during his opening statement. “Why they didn’t get out of the vehicle, I don’t know.
“Everyone is saying it’s all his fault. Everyone who looked at this assumed that Ben’s intoxication caused everything.”
The second driver, Bruce Sloan, testified that he was driving a Ford F-450 pickup with a flatbed trailer carrying two Toro commercial mowers that weighed about 700 pounds each, Sloan said.
The stretch of road where the crash occurred has no lights and is shielded by a hill as drivers approach the Fielder Road exit, Sloan said.
“There was something in the road there at the last minute,” Sloan said. “It looked like a dumpster. I was on it. I think I may have said, ‘Oh my God.’ It was milliseconds. It didn’t look like a vehicle. It was all mashed up. I didn’t see any lights on it.”
After he hit it, Sloan said, he could tell it was a car. Moments after pulling over to the shoulder, first responders began arriving, Sloan testified. A Dodge pickup was also parked on the freeway shoulder, and after another few minutes, Sloan said, he could see police officers searching a wooded area near the freeway.
“Ben Stewart had hidden in some grass,” Woods said.
Stewart tried to run away but was caught, according to Woods.
Frederick said Stewart’s blood alcohol level was between 0.27 and 0.29 about four hours after the wreck, but he indicated he would question that result.
Stewart had a previous conviction for driving while intoxicated in Arlington in 2002, records show. He was sentenced to 20 days in jail and fined $741.
In this case, Stewart was indicted on three counts of intoxication manslaughter and one of failure to stop and render aid. If convicted, Stewart elected to have his punishment assessed by state District Judge Scott Wisch, according to court records. Each intoxication manslaughter count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Intidam had been working as a car mechanic in Dallas’ Oak Cliff area. He moved to the United States from Morocco in 2005. His wife and daughter had joined him later, a relative said.
Testimony is expected to continue Thursday.