Lacey White acquitted of vehicular homicide
JACKSON -- Lacey Marie White was acquitted of the vehicular homicide charges in the 2007 death of Michael Unger in Heron Lake, after Judge Linda Titus granted a motion made by defense attorney Louis Kuchera Thursday in Jackson County District Court.
Shortly after Jackson County Attorney Robert O'Connor rested his case, Kuchera motioned for acquittal, saying the state's case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence and a large amount of conjecture.
"The evidence shows Michael Unger was a responsible individual," Kuchera stated. "He was the last person seen driving the truck. (White) was never seen driving the truck. The evidence fails to establish she was behind the wheel."
O'Connor said that every person who responded to the scene of the crash testified that White was found behind the wheel of the truck.
"Every person puts the defendant behind the wheel," he said. "This case is about the facts. It's about the impeachment of the defendant. She told one person she was in the backseat. She told others she was in the passenger seat. (Her) credibility is suspect."
The trail of debris thrown from the vehicle shows how forcefully things could be tossed around during a violent rollover accident, Kuchera argued, which is what he claimed happened to White.
The accident itself, O'Connor counterargued, was a fact that could not be denied.
"Only someone that was under the influence would drive the truck into that accident," he stated. "Witnesses testified the defendant was intoxicated. Michael Unger was sober."
O'Connor asked the judge for the opportunity to leave the facts of the case up to the jury to decide.
Judge Titus agreed that White's actions and behavior set in motion circumstances that led to the death of Unger.
"If she had behaved reasonably, it would not have happened," Titus stated. "But conjecture and speculation will not do it. If she had behaved appropriately, Michael Unger would probably be alive, but that does not establish criminal vehicular homicide. The evidence does not constitute a rational hypothesis of guilt."
She then granted Kuchera's motion of acquittal and dismissed the jury, who had sat through the state's entire case, consisting of 18 witnesses -- one flown in from Georgia -- and about 50 exhibits, including photos of the crash scene and Unger's body.
Afterward, Unger's mother Linda said she was truly disappointed in the outcome.
"Michael tried to help her and that resulted in his death," she said. "She knows that she's lying and she has to live with that every day."
All of the injuries to Michael's body were on his right side, Linda added, which should prove that he was on the passenger side of the vehicle when he was ejected from the truck.
"Now I have to live without my son for every hour of my life," she said quietly. "She took a son from me."
"And there's no remorse," added Gail Barlow, Michael's aunt. "No mention of 'I'm sorry.'"
At the beginning of the trial, O'Connor told the jury it was his intent to prove that White was driving the truck when it crashed.
Kuchera said Unger was driving and the burden of proof would be on the state. All emergency personnel who responded to the scene put White behind the wheel of the pickup, but it was up to O'Connor to prove whether that was because she was driving or because she had gotten tossed there during the truck's roll.
According to earlier testimony, the rollover occurred shortly after 1 a.m. Oct. 7, 2007. White and Unger had both been at the Hotel Whiskey, a bar in Heron Lake.
White was supposed to get a ride home from her boyfriend, but when she called home for a ride, he didn't want to come get her. Unger had taken the keys from White's car, according to two witnesses who testified.
One witness, Lindsey Chase Hulsey, said he watched Unger take the keys. He described White as stumbling, intoxicated and belligerent, yelling and screaming at Unger.
Everybody in the bar offered her a ride, he said, but she insisted she was going to drive home or walk.
Earlier in the night he knew Unger was drinking vodka and Red Bull, but later in the evening he took a sip of Unger's drink and discovered it was only water, he said.
Another bar patron, Odessa Mathers, described White as very loud and rude after she started drinking that night.
Mathers said White was slurring words and yelling at Unger.
She said she saw Unger take White's keys, and that people had removed the keys from White's car at other times. Unger, she said, was sober.
Mathers admitted that she and two others went to the crash scene the following morning after hearing a rumor that Unger's cell phone was missing and picked up a bar glass they found so the bar wouldn't get in trouble.
During earlier testimony from Officer Darcy Stenzel of the Heron Lake Police Department, the jury had listened to a recording of an interview between Stenzel and White in which White referenced some people going out to the crash scene and taking a bar glass. White had said Unger had picked her up after she had left the bar on foot and that he had a drink with him. In her statement, she said she told Unger to head back to Heron Lake because he couldn't drive with a drink.
According to State Trooper Robert Veldkamp, who did the crash reconstruction, the truck was northbound on Second Avenue near the New Vision plant when it drifted over the fog line, then went completely onto the shoulder before overcorrecting and veering across into the opposite lane.
From the three skid marks, he said he could tell the truck was already turned slightly sideways as it crossed the road and went into the ditch.
Where the skid marks in the ditch end is where the truck began to roll.
Unger's body was located approximately 90 feet past where the truck came to rest.