BATH, N.Y. (WETM) – The trial of Dustin Drake resumed Thursday in Steuben County court as new witnesses were called to the stand. Drake is facing multiple counts, including aggravated vehicular homicide and felony DWI, in the crash that left four people dead in Pulteney in October of 2019. The DWI charge was raised to a felony because Drake had a previous DWI conviction within the past 10 years.
Prosecutors continued to present their case as they try to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Drake was indeed behind the wheel of the car that slammed into a tree off County Route 76 just after 1am, after all five occupants left a bar. The impact killed 28 year old Korbie Higgins, 26 year old Coy F. Miner Jr., 25 year old Nicole Wise, and 29 year old Adam Bellamy. Dustin Drake, aged 30 at the time of the crash, survived with only minor injuries.
A forensic pathologist who performed autopsies on the four deceased occupants spent all afternoon on the witness stand. Prior to his testimony, Judge Chauncey Watches warned the jury they were about to see graphic autopsy photos. Prosecutors asked the pathologist to describe the injuries of the four deceased individuals. He was also asked to explain to the jury what kind of injuries would be consistent with either driver’s side or passenger side seatbelts. Only in the case of Nicole Wise, the pathologist testified her injuries could be consistent with a passenger side seatbelt, but he could not say for certain. Defense attorney Ray Schlather raised an objection, but was overruled by Judge Watches. Prosecutors also focused on a “C shaped” injury on Ms. Wise’s chin, saying it could have been caused by an impact against a “C shaped” portion of a front seat head rest. In cross examination, defense attorney Schlather noted the injury on Ms. Wise’s chin showed some bleeding. However, no blood was visible on the “C shaped” portion of the front seat head rest in question.
Prosecutors also showed the pathologist a photo of an injury Mr. Drake sustained to the bottom right part of his abdomen. The pathologist testified he could not say for certain if Mr. Drake’s injury was caused by a seatbelt. However, the pathologist testified if the injury had been caused by a seatbelt, it would be consistent with a driver’s side seatbelt. In cross examination, defense attorney Schlather noted the pathologist could not say for certain the injuries were caused by a seatbelt. The pathologist testified he did not consider himself an expert on seatbelt mechanics, and did not know which kind of seatbelts were in the vehicle.
Defense attorney Schlather had initially objected to allowing the pathologist to testify. Mr. Schlather said prosecutors did not provide sufficient disclosure about the witness ahead of time. He also objected to the pathologist being asked to give his opinion on seatbelt injuries, instead of a more limited scope of questioning pertaining to the official causes of death.
Earlier in the day, the jury also heard from a New York State Police forensic scientist who tested DNA swabs from several parts of the vehicle. According to special prosecutor Ray Benitez, DNA from 3 people was detected on the steering wheel. One sample belonged to Dustin Drake. The other 2 were inconclusive. DNA from two stains on the driver’s side airbag matched matched only one person, Mr. Drake. DNA from the passenger side airbag also matched one person, Mr. Drake. The scientist testified the DNA analysis does not indicate if the DNA is from the night of the crash.
In Wednesday’s testimony, a toxicology expert testified Mr. Drake’s blood alcohol content was .21, which is nearly three times the legal limit. Thursday, citing toxicology results, defense attorney Schlather noted the blood alcohol content of the four people who died. Korbie Higgins had a BAC of .23. Adam Bellamy had a BAC of .21. Nicole Wise had a BAC of .16. Coy F. Miner Jr. had a BAC of .11.
In Tuesday’s testimony, the jury heard from the lead investigator in the case from the Steuben County Sheriff’s office. The investigator testified that he interviewed Drake just days after the crash, when he was released from a hospital after sustaining minor injuries. The investigator testified that Mr. Drake stated he did not believe he was driving that night. According to testimony, Mr. Drake told the investigator the last thing he remembered was sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle, and then waking up on the grass near the crash site.
WETM also confirmed with the district attorney’s office that the vehicle involved, a Dodge Caliber is registered to Dustin Drake.
According to special prosecutor Ray Benitez, if Mr. Drake is convicted on the most serious charges of aggravated vehicular homicide, he could face between 8 to 25 years in prison.
Testimony resumes Friday at 9:30 am.