Bath, N.Y. (WETM) – Testimony resumed Friday in the trial of Dustin Drake, the man charged in a DWI crash that left four people dead in Pulteney more than 3 years ago. A New York State police investigator specializing in vehicle collision reconstruction spent most of the day on the stand. He testified that based on his analysis, Dustin Drake was the person behind the wheel of a Dodge Caliber when it slammed into a tree on County Route 76 after 1am, on October 12, 2019. Prosecutors say all 5 occupants had just 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. Investigators say Mr. Drake was found about 150 feet away from the wreckage.

To explain his conclusions to the jury, the investigator referenced the driver’s seat involved in the crash, which was brought into the courtroom, the seatbelts used in the vehicle, crash scene and autopsy photos, as well as his own drawings and a toy model car. The investigator testified Mr. Drake’s injuries are consistent with a driver’s side seatbelt. He also noted Mr. Drake had a right ankle fracture, which he described as a “very common injury” for drivers in crashes due to the right foot being on the gas or brake pedal at the time of collision. Special prosecutor Raymond Benitez asked the investigator if there was any other possible scenario that could place a different person in the driver’s seat other than Mr. Drake. Under oath, the investigator answered no. The investigator also testified the driver’s side of the vehicle was the least damaged and most protected area of the car. He testified that was due to the angle of the collision, and multiple airbags not available in other seats, including steering wheel, side curtain, and knee airbags. The driver’s seatbelt also showed evidence it was buckled in at the moment of impact.

Based on the condition of the seatbelts, as well as the injuries of the occupants, the investigator testified where he believed the other four occupants were seated in the car. The investigator testified Adam Bellamy was seated in the front passenger seat and was wearing a seatbelt. Coy F. Miner Jr. was seated in the rear passenger side seat, not wearing a seatbelt. Nicole Wise was unrestrained in the middle rear seat due to the middle seatbelt being “unusable” prior to the crash. The investigator testified Korbie Higgins was seated in the rear driver’s side passenger seat, not wearing a seatbelt.

Based upon the evidence presented thus far, the defense is trying to prove Mr. Drake was the person seated in the driver’s side rear passenger seat. The defense’s line of questioning is focusing on the possibility Nicole Wise was seated behind the wheel. In cross examination, defense attorney Ray Schlather tried to expose flaws and omissions in the investigator’s crash reconstruction and also questioned his level of expertise. Mr. Schlather asked the investigator if he was aware a wallet belonging to Ms. Wise was found near the vehicle’s center console among the wreckage, before the wallet was moved by a paramedic at the scene. The investigator answered no. Mr. Schlather asked the investigator if he drew any correlation between the vehicle’s broken keys and an injury on Ms. Wise’s right thigh area. The investigator answered no. The keys that were determined to belong to the Dodge Caliber were broken in two: The black fob portion that controls the vehicle locks, and the key blade, which was severed from the fob. The key blade was also bent. According to testimony from the lead county investigator assigned to the case, the severed key blade was found and analyzed for the first time just weeks ago when it was found covered by debris on the floor of the driver’s seat on January 2, 2023. No blood or DNA was found on the key. The investigator testified he also used a vise to straighten the bent key so he could try fitting it into the vehicle’s locks and ignition. The investigator testified he requested an exemplar key, or a copy, based on the VIN. The exemplar key matched the key blade found in the vehicle.

Defense attorney Schlather is also raising the possibility the driver’s seatbelt was buckled in before the crash, but may have somehow unlatched during the collision. Mr. Schlather’s line of questioning focused on the possibility that scenario could explain why Ms. Wise did not appear to have injuries consistent with a driver’s side seatbelt. Defense attorney Schlather also asked the investigator if he was aware Nicole Wise and Adam Bellamy were a couple. The prosecution objected to the question, saying it was not relevant to his testimony. Mr. Schlather is also focusing on autopsy results that show Coy F. Miner Jr. and Korbie Higgins had similar internal injuries, suggesting they were seated next to each other in the rear seat. Mr. Schlather also asked the investigator if he was aware Coy F. Miner Jr. and Korbie Higgins were a couple. The investigator answered no, leading to another objection by the prosecution.

In other testimony Friday, the crash investigator revealed the results of his analysis of the car’s “black box” or data recorder. The investigator testified the vehicle was traveling nearly 87 miles per hour just 5 seconds before the crash. Two seconds before the crash, the brakes were engaged, reducing the vehicle’s speed to 57 miles per hour. The investigator testified the impact against a tree ripped the car open in a V shape.

In other testimony earlier this week, the jury 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 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. A toxicology expert also testified Mr. Drake’s blood alcohol content was .21, which is nearly three times the legal limit. 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.

WETM also confirmed Mr. Drake’s second degree murder charges were dismissed in a pre-trial motion, making aggravated vehicular homicide the most serious charge he is facing. Mr. Drake’s initial DWI charge was raised to a felony because he had a prior DWI conviction within the last 10 years. According to special prosecutor Ray Benitez, if convicted Mr. Drake could face between 8 to 25 years in prison.

Friday, the mother of Korbie Higgins brought orange balloons to the courtroom to mark her daughter’s 32nd birthday. She told WETM orange was Korbie’s favorite color. She initially tied the balloons in a waiting area outside the courtroom. Judge Chauncey Watches later explained no displays of any kind were allowed inside the building. Korbie’s mother took the balloons outside where she released them into the sky above the courthouse.

Prosecutors will resume presenting their case on Monday Jan. 30 at 9:30 am.