August 28, 2014

Witnesses describe two crashes that killed Arlington family

Jurors must decide whether the first or second collision killed a family of three on Interstate 30 in Arlington last year.

An Arlington man accused of driving drunk and causing two wrecks that resulted in the deaths of a family of three had trouble standing up during a field sobriety test, video from a police dashboard camera showed Thursday.

“We had to stop the test due to the fact he almost fell down during the evaluation,” Arlington Officer David Henson testified. “I stopped the test because I did not want him to sustain an injury.”

Defendant Benjamon Ray Stewart is charged with intoxication manslaughter in the deaths of Najib Intidam, 40, his wife, Hanane, 27, and their 11-month-old daughter, Nour.

If convicted, Stewart, 43, could be sentenced to 20 years in prison on each of the three intoxication manslaughter counts. Stewart is also charged with three counts of failure to stop and render aid. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Stewart’s attorney, Michael Frederick, said his client’s blood-alcohol content measured between .27 and .29 when he was tested after the wreck, more than three times the legal limit. But Frederick has indicated he will dispute the results.

Najib Intidam was pronounced dead at the wreck scene in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 30 between Eastchase Parkway and Fielder Road in Arlington in the early hours of July 24, 2013. His wife and daughter were pronounced dead soon after at an Arlington hospital.

Witnesses testified that after Stewart’s Dodge Ram plowed into the rear of the Intidams’ Toyota, their car sat in the middle of the freeway for more than three minutes before it was struck again from the rear by a Ford F-450 pickup pulling two commercial mowers on a flatbed trailer.

Frederick has argued that the family’s fatal injuries came when the pickup plowed into the car.

An Arlington police traffic investigator testified on Thursday that he believes Stewart is responsible for both wrecks.

“I believe the second accident was a result of the first accident,” said Arlington officer J. Hawthorn. Stewart “put them in that position.”

911 calls about the wreck started about 2:20 a.m., Arlington officers told the jury.

But police searched the area for Stewart until about 3:15 a.m. Firefighters testified that they used a thermal imaging system to help locate Stewart in a stand of trees near the freeway.

James Lopez Jr. testified on Wednesday that he knew something was terribly wrong when saw headlights coming toward him as he was traveling eastbound on I-30 near the Fielder Road exit.

“I saw the wreck as it was actually happening,” Lopez said. “I could see the headlights and brake lights and other cars swerving.”

Lopez testified that the Toyota was spinning at the top of the hill as he approached, while other vehicles were swerving away from the mayhem. The front of the Toyota came to rest facing oncoming traffic and looked fairly normal as he neared the crash scene, Lopez said.

Lopez testified that he passed the car before realizing how bad the collision had been, Lopez said.

“There was debris all over the place,” Lopez said. “When I got beside the vehicle, I noticed it didn’t have a back end on it. It was basically half a car left. The back bumper was pushed against the driver’s seat.”

Lopez testified that by the time he parked his vehicle on the freeway shoulder and got out to see if anyone needed help, the two other vehicles involved were parked on opposite sides of the road.

And then Lopez said he dialed 911.

“The driver was slumped under the steering wheel,” Lopez testified. “He would breathe every 20 or 30 seconds. I tried to get him to respond to me but he never did.”

Then Lopez said he went to the other side of the Toyota and looked on the floor and saw the baby’s car seat. Lopez said he looked closer and saw the baby’s feet sticking out from under the mother.

Lopez testified that he pulled the baby out of the Toyota.

“The baby was already dead,” Lopez said. “I put the baby on the hood and I was thinking: ‘What if the mother is seeing us doing this?’ So I gave the baby to the other man, who took it to the side of the road and was holding her.”

The other man was Sonny Rodriguez, another passing motorist who stopped to help.

Rodriguez testified that he wanted to give the baby whatever care he could until first responders arrived. The man and woman inside the car were in very bad condition, he said.

“I tried to talk with them, but they never responded,” Rodriguez said. “There was nothing that I could have done for that baby.”

Testimony is scheduled to continue Friday in state District Judge Scott Wisch’s courtroom. Tarrant County prosecutors Katie Woods and Paige McCormick are presenting the state’s case.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

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