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Murder Trial In Alaska Focuses On Whether Pickup's DVD Distracted Driver

August 3, 2004

When a pickup truck crossed the double yellow line along Seward Highway and killed two occupants of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, police initially thought the accident was a tragic mistake by a momentarily distracted driver, according to the Associated Press on July 26.Then they spotted the dashboard DVD player. In what may be the first trial of its kind in the nation, prosecutors have accused the pickup truck’s driver of second-degree murder for watching a movie instead of the road when he crashed head-on into the Jeep.The pickup’s driver denies using the DVD player on Oct. 12, 2002 and contends he was only listening to music from a compact disc, said his attorney.The pickup driver is accused of killing the husband and wife who were in the struck vehicle, of Anchorage, while on a three-hour drive between Kenai and Anchorage. In his truck was the equivalent of a home entertainment system — a DVD player, speakers and a Sony PlayStation 2.While no Alaska law prohibits operating a DVD player in view of a driver, the prosecutor said the facts warranted charging the driver under one of two theories: that he knew his conduct was substantially certain to cause death, or that he knowingly engaged in conduct showing extreme indifference to human life. Initial Alaska State Trooper reports said the driver was at fault when he took his eyes off the road to reach for a soda. Stein, though, will try to prove that the DVD player was on, apparently playing a movie.The trial, which got under way last week in Kenai Superior Court, may be the first of its kind in the nation, said Matthew Swantson, director of communications for the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade association. Installed as recommended, DVD players and TV screens are either visible only from the back seats or will not work unless the vehicle is in park. But owners can defeat the safety measures by installing the devices themselves, as the pickup driver allegedly did, according to prosecutors.
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