Intoxicated driver tries to change his plea
A Sun Valley man who caused two deaths in a 1993 drunken driving accident was told Thursday in Carson City District Court he could not withdraw his guilty plea.
Frederick Jerome Woods is serving a 30-year prison sentence for his part in the deaths of Alvin Costa and Deborah Roberts, ages 49 and 34, who were riding in his car.
Woods’ two nephews were uninjured in the accident, but the driver and passenger of an oncoming sports utility vehicle were hospitalized after Woods crossed into the westbound lanes on Highway 50 near Spooner Summit and slammed into the vehicle’s side.
Woods’ car, a Dodge Shelby, was ripped in two by the impact, and Woods and Costa were ejected. Woods suffered several fractures to his head and femur. A lengthy hospitalization stalled Woods’ prosecution for more than a year. Although he suffered debilitating brain damage, he was found competent to stand trial.
Defense attorney Bill Rogers said Thursday he was attempting to establish that Chief Deputy Public Defender Diane Crow, an eight-year veteran of the public defender’s office, did not properly investigate the case before counseling Woods on a plea agreement.
He argued that fiber, blood and other evidence should have been tested by the public defender’s office to establish other possible accident scenarios. Woods has maintained that Costa was driving at the time of the accident.
Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Allen Stout described the accident investigation, and the angle of trajectory that propelled Woods and Acosta out of the car.
“The face going through the windshield – his injuries were consistent with that,” Stout said. “If Mr. Costa was driving that vehicle he would have facial divots from the windshield.”
Stout’s investigation concluded that Woods flew through the windshield, while Costa was ejected out of the passenger door.
Rogers asked Stout about an untested red fiber found on the windshield and blood stains between the vehicles that may have suggested Costa was not the one in the passenger’s seat. He also asked about the origin of cuts found on Costa’s hand.
Stout said those tests, no matter what the results, would not have shed light on other potential accident scenarios. “Every accident scene is contaminated,” he said.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Anne Langer said all the relevant evidence was tested and Woods’ guilty plea was made knowingly and intelligently. Judge Michael Fondi agreed and denied Rogers’s argument.
Rogers said the difficulty of this type habeas corpus hearing is the limited funding he had to test new evidence. “I’m trying this case with one hand tied behind my back,” he said.
Crow testified that two independent investigators concluded that the highway patrol scenario was likely.
Woods pleaded guilty in 1996 to charges of drunken driving causing death and drunken driving causing bodily harm. After the plea was made, Woods fired Crow and tried to submit a not-guilty plea. His attempt was denied and he was subsequently sentenced to 15 years on each charge by Fondi.
Since his first court appearances, Woods has made several motions and appeals in justice and district courts. The Supreme Court denied a request to appeal a previous motion where Woods claimed that his plea negotiation was not legal under Nevada Law.
Woods still has the option of appealing Fondi’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.