Triple hit & run suspect testifies: 'I was scared'

4:49 PM, Apr 15, 2013   |    comments
  • Curtis Harper, 22, of Franklin, in court. 6/18/12
  • Chasity Thornell
  • Nelson Soto Sr.
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The man accused in a triple fatal hit and run is testifying in his own defense.

Curtis Scott Harper took the stand Monday afternoon to talk about what happened the night Nelson Soto, Sr, Chasity Thornell, and her unborn child died.

Harper said he went to work and came home, and was preparing to leave town for a music festival.  He admits to buying orange soda and vodka to mix, but says he threw it out because it tasted bad.  He says he then went to buy camping supplies before meeting some friends at a bar called The Hill around 10:30 pm.

Harper claims he did not share the pitcher of beer that was already on the table when he arrived, but he ordered a pitcher around 11:30 to share with three others.  He said he was there until about 1:15 and was "feeling fine" when he left.

Harper's route home took him down Washington Avenue, where Thornell and Soto were hit.  Harper testified that he wasn't speeding and that the road has "sparse lighting."  He said there was a car in his lane, so he swerved and hit something.  He testified he didn't see any people. 

When he got home, he said he "started freaking out."  He saw blood on the car and got a sponge to clean it off, but at that point began wondering if he'd hit someone.  He spoke to his girlfriend a couple of times that night.

When asked why he ran, he said "I was scared" and "it happened so fast."

The next day, he heard that two people were killed (it was not reported at that time that Thornell was seven months pregnant), and realized he had killed people.  He said he went outside and hosed the car off.  He admitted he "made a bad situation worse" by cleaning up the blood.

He said, "I wish none of this had happened."

Harper admits thinking about taking the car out of state and making up a story about hitting a deer.  He says he called his brother to tell him the situation, and says he wanted to turn himself in.  Harper says he was sober and was in control of the car, and has repeated several times that he was scared.

When the defense finished their questions, the prosecution took over.  Harper admits he knew he had alcohol in his system and that he ran.  He admits to drinking vodka, beer, and telling a friend he was drunk.

He says he did not remember seeing the victims when he hit them and did not recall seeing Thornell's body as it was dragged 160 feet down the road by his vehicle.  He describes the impact as a "loud crash." 

She asked, "Why didn't you call police?  Why didn't you call for help?  You thought about you?"  He said, "Yes, ma'am."

After 57 minutes of testimony, Harper was allowed to leave the stand, and the defense rested their case.

The jury has been dismissed for the day.  They will be back in court Tuesday morning to hear closing arguments.

Previous: Toxicologist testifies

After a lunch break, a toxicologist was called to the stand to talk about Curtis Harper's possible blood alcohol content the night of the incident.

No blood alcohol test was administered the night that prosecutors say Curtis Harper hit and killed three people, because he was not in custody. 

The defense claims that Harper drank a shot of vodka and split a picture of beer with two others.  The witness said that if that alcohol was consumed in about two hours by 11 pm, Harper's B.A.C. at the time of the hit and run was a maximum of 0.05 or 0.06.  The prosecution alleges that Harper drank more, and several witnesses testified last week that Harper told them he was drunk.

Previous: Testimony begins in second week of Harper trial

The trial for Curtis Harper has entered its second week in Downtown Knoxville.

Harper is charged with three counts of vehicular homicide, and one count each of DUI, tampering with evidence, and reckless endangerment.

Last May, prosecutors say Harper was driving drunk when he struck and killed 24-year-old Chasity Thornell, who was seven months pregnant, and 45-year-old Nelson Soto Sr. 

The prosecution rested its case last week, and the defense is still presenting their side of the story.

Monday morning, the defense called Scott Riling, a traffic accident re-constructionist for a private company, to the stand.  They are trying to disprove Knoxville Police investigators determination that Harper hit Thornell and Soto because he was drunk.

The defense claims that Harper wasn't drunk, and the accident was unavoidable because it was dark and the victims and car were partially in the roadway.

Next, Harper's girlfriend, Amy Morrow.  She testified that Harper told her he thought he hit something and was very scared.  She said she asked him why he left the scene, and he said he didn't know what to do, that it happened so fast and he was scared.  She said when he found out three people had died, he was "inconsolable."  She also said Harper did not sound drunk on the phone when they talked that night.  Morrow was dismissed, and court recessed for lunch.

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