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Massachusetts teen on trial, accused of texting before fatal crash

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:03 PM EDT, Wed June 6, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The trial of Aaron Deveau, now 18, began this week in Haverhill, Massachusetts
  • Authorities say he was texting before a fatal crash, then erased some of the texts
  • The defense argues authorities had an agenda in trying to link texting with the crash
  • The teen had told police after the incident, "I was tired, I was distracted"
Aaron Deveau is on trial for texting while driving, resulting in in a crash that killed a 55-year-old man.
Aaron Deveau is on trial for texting while driving, resulting in in a crash that killed a 55-year-old man.

(CNN) -- In a potential landmark case, a Massachusetts teenager is on trial this week after prosecutors say his texting while driving caused a crash that led to the death of a 55-year-old man.

Aaron Deveau's trial got underway Tuesday in Haverhill, with opening statements and the prosecution beginning to present its case. The first few days of the trial included testimony by the victim's family and a crash survivor, the replaying of Deveau's original interview with police and a visit to the crash site, as the defendant looked on from afar.

Almost exactly one year earlier, the then-17-year-old Deveau pleaded not guilty to a host of charges tied to the fatal February 20, 2011, crash, the Essex County District Attorney's office said in a press release at the time.

Those charges were motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, being an operator under 18 using a mobile phone, being an operator reading or sending an electronic message, a marked lanes violation and two counts of negligent operation and injury from mobile phone use.

Some 38 states ban text messaging for all drivers while 31 prohibit all cell phone use by "novice drivers," according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Yet Deveau's case is thought to be unique, in that his texting is being linked to another person's death.

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Prosecutors allege that Deveau was texting when his car crossed the center line and hit a vehicle being driven by Donald Bowley, a resident of Danville, New Hampshire. Bowley's girlfriend, Luz Roman, was in his car with him and suffered serious injuries. Haverhill Detective Thomas Howell testified this week that the two "were almost folded into the floorboards," the impact was so severe.

Bowley died March 10, after he was taken off life support.

"My brother received such head trauma that... there was no hope for him," Bowley's sister, Donna Burleigh, said this week in court.

According to reports from several CNN affiliates, prosecutors claim that Deveau received and sent a total of 193 text messages on the day of the crash, including several around the time the accident occurred.

During her opening remarks, Assistant District Attorney Ashlee Logan suggested that Deveau may have erased some of his texts or fibbed to police after the accident.

"He states the last message that he received was at 2:33 (p.m.), and then shows the officer the next message is at 3:10," Logan said. "When records were received, it's learned: there are two (texts) missing."

Deveau said after the crash in a taped interview with police, which was played in court this week, "I was tired. I was distracted. When I looked away for one quick second, I came too close to her and I was trying to hit my brakes."

His defense lawyer claimed authorities set out from the beginning to link texting to the crash, a cause-and-effect relationship that he contends is not valid. Joseph Lussier, the attorney, furthermore urged jurors not to let the sad, gruesome nature of the crash and its effect on its victims cloud their determination as to whether Deveau's texting was to blame.

"Please don't listen to the sympathies of the commonwealth when you're making your decision," Lussier said.

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