Jurors will begin deciding this morning whether a Colorado woman ignored the medical advice of doctors not to operate a vehicle when she plowed her SUV into a pickup truck, killing a family of five.
Prosecutors say Monica Chavez, driving more than 100 miles per hour with her two kids, apparently had a seizure when she entered an intersection, went airborne and smashed into two cars on a Thornton, Colo., street Feb. 17, 2011. Randy and Crystaldawn Stollsteimer, and their kids, Sebastian, Darrian, and Cyrus, died instantly.
Prosecutors say Chavez should not have been behind the wheel because of another seizure-like episode she had in 2006. After the 2006 episode, doctors told Chavez in the emergency room that she should not drive until cleared by a neurologist, prosecutor Tiffany Score said.
She ignored the order, according to prosecutors, but defense attorneys counter that Chavez saw her own doctor who was not convinced she'd had a seizure.
"No doctor will tell you that she should not have been driving five years after something that they never called a seizure," defense attorney Megan Downing said. "She was told she was fine and that's why she was in the car that day."
Chavez suffered another seizure at a McDonalds in August 2010, according to prosecutors. Chavez's husband, George, said the 2010 incident didn't raise a red flag because he thought she just blacked out from suffering a heat stroke, according to ABC News station KMGH-TV in Denver.
Chavez is facing five counts of negligent homicide and two counts of child abuse for putting her own children in danger. It will all come down to 10 women and two men who will decide whether she is a victim of mixed medical advice and bad judgment or a criminal who deserves prison.
"I think the fact that there is such a long timeframe in between the two seizures may really cut against the prosecution," Annemarie McAvoy of Fordham University School of Law in New York said.
The Chavez case has receiving renewed national attention after Commerce Secretary John Bryson was charged with a felony hit-and-run last weekend after he says he suffered a seizure while driving. Bryson was found blacked out after hitting two cars. No one was injured.