Defense attorney: Haverhill teen was not texting at time of crash and should be acquitted

HAVERHILL — The Haverhill teenager accused of causing a fatal crash by texting while driving should be acquitted of vehicular homicide because prosecutors could not prove he was holding the phone in his hands at the moment of the crash, the teen’s defense attorney said today.

Attorney Joseph Lussier also told a Haverhill District Court jury that Aaron Deveau’s life was forever altered by the Feb. 20, 2011, crash on River Street that killed Donald Bowley Jr. and seriously injured Bowley’s girlfriend, Luz Roman.

Aaron Deveau (Pool photo)

“Three lives have been changed forever,’’ Lussier said as some of Bowley’s relatives in the courtroom wept. “One life is no longer with us.”

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Lussier told jurors that the crash was not the result of Deveau’s texting, despite assertions by Essex Assistant District Attorney Ashlee Logan that phone records show Deveau sent a text message two minutes before the head-on collision.

“They have to put the cellphone in his hands,’’ he told jurors. “He has to have seen the text message that they are talking about.”

Bowley was 55 and a resident of Danville, N.H. Today his three adult children stood next to their aunt, Donna Burleigh, as she spoke with reporters after the trial’s conclusion.

“It was extremely difficult’’ to attend the trial, Burleigh said. “Losing somebody you love is not easy. Seeing them in the condition he was in is not easy. I just hope that no one else has to experience the pain and anguish that we have gone through.’’

Earlier today, Deveau took the stand in his own defense and insisted he was not texting when he was behind the wheel. He testified that the phone was on the passenger seat of the car at the time of the crash, and that he had sent his last message while he was in the parking lot of the Market Basket supermarket where he worked.

Lussier urged jurors to remember Deveau’s testimony that he did not send or a receive a text from the moment the key was in the ignition of his car.

During his 20 minutes on the witness stand, Deveau was subjected to sharp questioning by Logan about his texting activity that day. Deveau often could not recall specific information, but he was certain that he was not using his cellphone at the time of the accident.

During her closing argument, Logan told jurors she was not accusing Deveau of deliberately causing the crash.

“You are never going to hear me say he meant to do it, but that does not matter,’’ Logan said. “Intent does not matter.”

What does count, she said, is his negligence behind the wheel.

“His negligence does not start at the crash,’’ she said. “His negligence happened the moment he let his mind get distracted by whatever.”

Logan also attacked the defense claim that the prosecution must show he was using the phone. Under state law, she stressed, teenage drivers are not permitted to handle a phone in a vehicle in the first place.

“Everyone is forgetting that he is not allowed to have that phone,’’ Logan said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s still there in the parking lot.”

Deveau, who was 17 at the time of the crash and is now 18, is charged with violating the new state law that makes it a crime for a driver to text while behind the wheel when a person is injured during a crash.

He is also charged with negligent motor vehicle homicide, and prosecutors are trying to convince jurors that Deveau’s alleged texting legally qualifies as a negligent act warranting a criminal conviction.

The jury deliberated for about two hours this afternoon before being sent home by Judge Stephen Abany.