A jury could not reach a verdict Wednesday on a woman accused of vehicular homicide in a crash that killed two people on County Road G in 2014, according to a District Court clerk.
The hung jury means the 12 jurors could not come to unanimous agreement on a guilty or not-guilty verdict. A new trial was set for mid-June.
Prosecuting attorney Sean Murray argued Wednesday that law enforcement officials ignored “every piece of the truth” in their investigation of a crash in the 6800 block of County Road G that left two people dead and several others with severe injuries on Dec. 13, 2014.
Rowena Jean Yanito, 33, of Bluff, Utah, is accused of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, reckless driving and driving under the influence in the crash. Murray and defense attorney Katherine Whitney made closing arguments Wednesday in Montezuma District Court in Cortez before Judge Douglas Walker.
In the crash, a 2006 Chrysler Pacifica struck a 2012 Nissan Sentra and then burst into flames, according to court documents.
But Whitney, representing Yanito, said it wasn’t clear that Yanito was the driver of the Pacifica because Janeen Black, 27, had admitted several times that she was driving the car. Black was arrested Dec. 18, 2014, and held on a $25,000 bond. She was released from jail about six months later in June 2015 after law enforcement officials said she had been wrongly charged.
“It was chaos, it was traumatic,” Whitney said of the crash scene.
Murray maintained that Yanito was the driver, though, pointing to a physician’s testimony that Yanito’s injuries, including facial burns, were typical injuries sustained by drivers in similar crashes.
An eyewitness to the scene who helped pull the driver out of the burning Pacifica testified that the driver had been wearing a purple bra on the night of the crash, Murray said. According to court documents, Yanito told a Colorado state trooper she was wearing a purple bra that night. Murray also said witnesses told investigators that the passenger of the Pacifica was larger than the driver. Murray produced photos he said showed that Yanito is thinner than Black.
But Whitney said the prosecution was jumping to conclusions in the case. She said the doctor’s testimony regarding Yanito’s injuries was not based on scientific fact. Whitney added that Black remembered details, such as the car’s gas gauge being low, that suggested she was driving the Pacifica.
Murray pointed to testimony from Oliver Darrel Silas, another witness at the crash scene. According to court documents, Silas told an investigator he identified Yanito as the driver of the Pacifica. Silas, who Murray said is married to Yanito’s sister Edwina, also told the investigator his wife said Yanito was the driver, according to the documents.
Whitney said some of Silas’s testimony was not accurate, though. Whitney told jurors Silas testified that the scene was traumatic and stressful for him. She said trauma and stress can sometimes trick people into believing something that’s not true.
According to court documents, Silas was not interviewed by investigators about the crash until June 2015, more than six months after the crash took place.
Murray said Edwina Yanito, along with Rowena Yanito’s boyfriend Brandon Tsosie, created projections that masked the truth of the case.
Whitney said the impressions made by Colorado state troopers and other investigators, who are trained to examine crash scenes, are very important. She told jurors the case epitomized reasonable doubt.
“This case has been a roller-coaster ride back and forth,” Whitney said. “This is not a game. ... The jury cannot be swayed by emotions. You have to work through your feelings to get to reason.”
Yvonne Padilla and passenger Gerald Padilla, of Cortez, were pronounced dead at the scene. A third passenger, a 15-year-old woman, was transported to Southwest Memorial Hospital with serious injuries.