Driver charged with murder faces fifth DUI charge

Posted: Tuesday, November 09, 2010

ANCHORAGE - A woman deemed too dangerous to be released on bail after being charged for the fifth time with driving under the influence went on trial Monday, accused of murdering a young man in a head-on collision.

Lori Phillips, 56, is accused of being drunk and driving on a revoked license when her SUV crossed the center line last November and crashed head-on into another vehicle on a major highway south of Anchorage. The wreck killed Louis Clement, 23, and seriously injured the 29-year-old mother of his child, Joyua Stovall.

Phillips faces second-degree murder, assault, drunken driving and other charges in the crash.

At the time of the wreck, she was out on bail on a DUI charge from earlier in the year. Police said her blood-alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit.

On Monday, hairdresser Jessica Olsen testified that Phillips was "out of it" during her appointment for a hair cut and permanent at the Hot Heads hair salon the afternoon of the wreck.

Phillips' speech was slurred and her eyes glassy, Olsen said. Her condition seemed to worsen during the three-hour appointment, during which Phillips kept a stainless steel coffee cup close at hand, Olsen said.

When Phillips got ready to leave, Olsen tried to stop her. She offered to call her a cab and tried to get her car keys. Olsen said she even grabbed Phillips' arm and tried to pull her out of her car, but she was unsuccessful.

When Phillips drove away, Olsen called 911.

Ten minutes later, an employee at a weigh station saw a vehicle drive over a traffic cone and then head in the wrong direction. Another driver called 911 as he watched several vehicles pull over to avoid a collision.

Moments later, Phillips' SUV crashed head-on into Clement and Stovall's car, prosecutor Clint Campion said.

"There was no evidence of any braking by the Explorer prior to the collision," he said.

Campion said Clement and Stovall were just a young couple out for a drive and were unaware they shared the road with Phillips.

"Lori Phillips was on the road that night despite being extremely intoxicated," Campion said.

While the prosecutor addressed the jury, Phillips occasionally looked at the jurors but mostly took notes on a yellow legal pad.

Instead of disputing Campion's account, defense attorney Rex Butler encouraged jurors to question whether second-degree murder was appropriate.

Outside the courtroom, Butler said the charge is more appropriate for someone who commits a drive-by shooting and kills an innocent bystander, not someone who drinks too much and gets in an accident.

Butler said Phillips is like thousands of others in the United States who don't get adequate help to stop drinking and then are mishandled by the courts.

"When we look at Lori Phillips, a lot of people just see a drunk - throw her away," Butler said. "You have to deal with the underlying issues."

Butler said Phillips' only child died this summer after being hospitalized for a heroin overdose.

But Stovall's 31-year-old brother, Jamin Stovall, said the law needs to come down harder on drunk drivers and stop giving them so many chances.

"Killing someone is not OK," added Toshianna Stovall, Joyua Stovall's 36-year-old sister.

The trial is expected to last for days.

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