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Driver found guilty in fatal bus stop crash

Charge of vehicular homicide to be addressed at sentencing


Justin M. Bowen

Stephen N. Murray (center) stands with Public Defenders Darin Imlay (left) and Stephen Immerman as the jury enters the courtroom Wednesday, the first day of Murray’s trial.

Updated Monday, March 30, 2009 | 6:02 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Steven Murray

A Clark County District Court jury on Monday convicted a man on charges stemming from his collision into a bus stop last summer that left one woman dead and another without her legs.

Steven N. Murray, 44, was found guilty of causing the death of 55-year-old Patricia Hoff while under the influence of a controlled substance. He also was convicted of driving under the influence of a controlled substance resulting in an accident with fatality or bodily harm in the maiming of Porsche Hughes, who was 26 at the time of the crash.

Hughes, a wife and mother of two who was on her way to work as a nursing assistant, was seated next to Hoff on the morning of July 7, 2008, at a bus stop on Boulder Highway. On Monday -- about nine months later and in a wheelchair -- she sat next to Hoff's daughter, Robin Wynkoop, as the guilty verdicts were read.

"I am happy. I cried when the verdicts were read; it was tears of happiness," she said with a smile after leaving the courtroom. "We got him off the street."

Law enforcement investigators testified that the Percocet and Valium in Murray's system made him impaired. Murray's attorneys argued that the drugs in his system didn't impair his ability to operate a vehicle. Sentencing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on May 21.

As the verdicts were read, Murray, dressed in a brown, striped shirt with his graying brown hair slicked back, showed no emotion. But teary eyes peppered the back of the courtroom as Hughes and others cried quietly, relieved that Murray was staying in jail.

Hughes said that watching Murray from the courtroom made her feel ill.

"That careless, smug, smirk grin like he didn't do anything wrong just sickened my stomach," she said. "It literally made my stomach curl."

Wynkoop said the guilty verdicts were a relief -- just what her mother would have wanted.

"I don't have my mom. But at least they took him off the street and nobody else will feel what we all did today," she said. "So, he's off the street. That's all that mattered in my family."

A third charge against Murray, vehicular homicide, will be addressed by a judge at sentencing. To convict Murray on that charge, his four prior DUI convictions would have had to have been presented to the jury, Deputy District Attorney L.J. O'Neale said.

O'Neale said prosecutors wanted jurors to find him guilty without knowledge of his prior convictions.

Prosecutors plan to present the judge with sealed copies of Murray's convictions, which happened in Texas. If the judge agrees that Murray is guilty of vehicular homicide, he can be sentenced from 25 years to life in prison.

"It's not and cannot be justice, because justice would be giving Porsche back her legs, giving Mrs. Hoff back her life -- we can't do that. They're tough cases," O'Neale said.

The charges Murray was convicted of Monday each carry a minimum of two years, a maximum of 20 and a $2,000 to $5,000 fine.

Murray's victims will have an opportunity to speak to the judge during sentencing.

Wynkoop said she had gotten support from community members but became frustrated when some said the crash that killed her mother could have been an accident.

"An accident is something that is not preventable. This was preventable," she said. "He didn't have to get behind the wheel. He didn't have to take drugs."

Sandy Heverly, executive director of the nonprofit group STOP DUI, said Murray could be the first person to face mandatory sentencing under a DUI statute approved by the Legislature in 2005. She called the DUI vehicular homicide statute "murder at random with a 4,000-pound weapon."

"We're hoping that people out there who are still choosing to drive under the influence -- whether it be alcohol, other drugs, prescription drugs -- will take heed from this because we're serious about this," she said.

Murray, on his way to work as an electrician, turned his red 2001 Dodge pickup truck from Flamingo Road onto Boulder Highway and smashed through a bus shelter in front of a Walgreens Pharmacy. Witnesses testified that the truck was swerving from lane-to-lane before the impact.

Hughes said during her testimony that she made eye contact with Murray as his truck skidded over the curve and that he accelerated toward her. Police investigators testified there was no evidence that Murray ever used his brakes.

Closing arguments wrapped up late Friday night and the jury began deliberations, which took about three hours, Monday morning.

Although Murray has been incarcerated since his arrest, his bail was revoked and he will remain in custody at the Clark County Detention Center until sentencing.

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