SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) - The driver who died in a head-on crash that also killed two young girls had enough heroin and tramadol, a pain reliever, in her system to be deadly.
Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cohle revealed that information about 24-year-old Brittney King during the continuation of the preliminary exam of David Johnson. Johnson is accused of being drunk and slamming his Ford F-150 head-on into the Pontiac Grand Prix driven by King.
Cassadi Berryhill, 4, and Kandice Berryhill, 2, also died in the crash. They were back seat passengers in King's car. Their father Justin Berryhill was a front-seat passenger and was seriously injured in the collision.
Cohle revealed in court Wednesday that though all three victims had extensive injuries from the crash, King and Kandice died of head injuries, and Cassadi died of abdominal trauma likely caused by the seat belt she was wearing.
Despite the information about the drugs in King's system, Judge Robert Hentchel decided there was enough evidence to show Johnson had been drinking and caused the accident. Hentchel bound Johnson over to trial on all 11 counts he was charged with, including three counts of second-degree murder.
On Dec. 12, the first part of Johnson's preliminary exam took place. At that time, it was revealed his blood alcohol content level at the time of the crash on Nov. 13 was .32 -- four times the legal limit in Michigan.
King died as a result of multiple injuries, but the biggest reason was likely extensive blood loss said Cohle. He went on to say that levels of heroin and tramadol, a pain reliever, found in her system were high enough to be deadly.
"If we were to find her dead in bed, for example, or a non-trauma situation, I would be quite satisfied that these levels are high enough to cause death," he said.
But, he went on to say, that the injuries from the car accident are definitely the reason she died, telling the court that there were several injuries, like her small intestine was severed, that he did not think could have been repaired.
"Clearly her injuries were fatal," but the drugs may have made her die "a minute or two" quicker, Cohle testified.
Therapeutic levels of tramadol, Cohle said, are about 50 nanograms per milliliter of blood. The tramadol in King's systems was at 1380 nanograms per milliliter. If people are habitual users of drugs, like tramadol or heroin, they can build up a tolerance to doses that might kill a non-drug user, the medical examiner said.
"I think that it is certainly possible to get tolerance to a drug to a degree that a person who is not tolerant to that drug might die for that level," said Cohle. "Whereas the tolerant person might be able to function reasonably well."
Her reaction time would "for sure" be slowed by the drugs in her system, he testified. When Johnson's defense attorney asked if King might have actually died of an overdose before the crash, Cohle said the bleeding and bruising she had are evidence she was alive and had not died before the crash.
He said in determining a cause of death in a situation like this, there are several things he looks at.
"What is more important here in the cause of her death: the drugs or the injuries?" said Cohle.
Cohle said it appears that King was in control of car and driving within the posted speed limit. He said the drugs may not have adversely affected King's driving abilities that night, but in general, "someone who has high levels of drugs of that sort would be not as good a driver as if they were free of the drugs."
Justin Berryhill, father of the two young girls killed in the wreck, and a passenger the night of the crash, told 24 Hour News 8 he didn't notice anything wrong with King that night. He said he only knew she was taking prescription medication for several years. Even with the information revealed Wednesday, he still defended her memory.
"It wasn't her fault. [Johnson] was drunk and he hit us," said Berryhill. "It wasn't Brittany's fault at all. She couldn't have did anything and I was in the car with her."
Alisha Quinones, the mother of the two little girls, was clearly shocked when the medical examiner said King had drugs in her system.
But after her initial surprise, she defended King to 24 Hour News 8.
"She loved my girls," Quinones told 24 Hour News 8. "If she honestly would have ever been incapable of driving she would have let somebody know and she definitely wouldn't have kids in the vehicle. I really don't appreciate how they tried to portray her as some drug addict and tried to turn this into her fault. [Johnson] was drunk driving down the road and smashed into her and that's really it."
She went to say, "He is the criminal and we were the victims and we're the ones who have to suffer the rest of our lives, no matter if he goes to prison. If he spent the rest of his life in prison he still don't have to go through what we go through."
After Cohle's testimony, the prosecution did not call any more witnesses and the defense called no one.
was extra security in the courtroom during the preliminary exam.
Witnesses at that time of the crash told Van Buren County Sheriff's deputies at the scene that the driver of a Ford F-150 was traveling west, sped up and crossed the center line to pass an Oldsmobile Alero.
During the pass attempt, the pickup truck collided head-on with the Grand Prix. The pickup truck then struck the Alero. An expert testified in court Wednesday that the pickup truck rolled on its side after basically going over the Grand Prix.
An MSP reconstructionist testified that King likely didn't have half a second to respond before impact. Sgt. James Campbell testified that King likely didn't have any way to avoid the wreck, and that she didn't hit the brakes in the seconds before the air bags went off.
Campbell said she likely didn't have time to react because "she didn't react at all."
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