EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 19, 2013

City woman on trial for fatal drunk driving crash

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinsk@eagletribune.com

---- — SALEM, Mass. — The trial of a young Lawrence woman accused of a reckless drunken driving crash that killed two men on Interstate 93 in June 2011 opened yesterday morning in Salem, Mass., Superior Court.

Shayna Fernandez, 23, of 1131 Essex St., is charged with multiple counts of manslaughter and motor vehicle homicide by drunken driving and negligent operation.

In his opening statement yesterday morning, prosecutor Michael Patten said Fernandez was intoxicated and speeding around 7 a.m. in the far left lane on I-93 north on June 11, 2011. Near the River Road exit in Andover, she struck a 1993 Chevy S-10 Blazer being driven by Francis O’Hanley Jr., 62, of Saugus, police said.

Fernandez’s Acura sedan swerved off the roadway into the center median, then back onto the highway, hitting the Blazer, which had a small fishing boat on a trailer in tow. The Blazer rolled over and came to rest in the median, according to police reports. Witnesses told police Fernandez was driving 90 mph.

O’Hanley and a passenger, Joseph A. Coppola, 57, of Malden, died from injuries they suffered in the crash. Another passenger, Timothy O’Hanley, 25, of Saugus, survived.

Immediately after the accident, Fernandez spoke with a state trooper, who said her eyes were bloodshot and she had a “moderate odor of alcohol on her breath,” Patten said. A breath test revealed her blood alcohol level was .12. A person with a .08 blood alcohol level is considered legally drunk, he said.

Patten said Fernandez had her last drink at 4:30 a.m., roughly 2 1/2 hours before the accident. The case, he stressed to jurors, is about “recklessness and negligence ... Disregard of known risks. That’s the theme of this case,” he said.

“Her actions set into motion a chain of events that caused the death of two people,” Patten said. He said he planned to call witnesses to Fernandez’s driving that morning, along with state troopers who investigated. Patten also cautioned the case was not about intent.

“No one alleges Shayna Fernandez intended for this to happen,” Patten said.

Defense attorney John Morris of Salem said calculations state police used to reconstruct the accident were faulty and, the breath test device state police used to measure Fernandez’s blood alcohol level that morning was working improperly.

Morris told jurors that on the morning of the crash Fernandez cooperated with police, speaking clearly with them and got into a cruiser without any help. “She was able to do what he asked her to do,” Morris said.

On the way to the barracks for booking, “she didn’t nod off on the way there,” he said. “These are all important facts.”

Morris described the trial as “a horrible, horrible case. Families lost two members.”

However, he urged jurors not to let emotion dictate their thinking. “This case is about the facts,” he said.

Eight women and six men comprise the jury. The trial is expected to last into next week.

Born in Haverhill, Fernandez grew up in Lawrence, graduated from Lawrence High School and prior to the accident worked full-time as a personal care assistant to her severely disabled younger sister.

The charge of manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Those convicted of motor vehicle homicide can be sentenced to 15 years in state prison.

The trial resumes Thursday morning.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.