Some evidence barred from trial over fatal wreck

Posted at 8:16 PM, Jan 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-16 10:02:17-05

WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Prosecutors won't be able to use some of the evidence against a woman police accused of being under the influence when she crashed into a group of utility workers last spring, killing one of them.

Michele Schuster, 24, went left of center while driving a 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier north on Cox Road on April 22, 2015, hitting Amber Rooks, 24, and three other utility workers. All were employees of Duke Energy subcontractors.

Rooks later died of her injuries. She worked for Area Wide Protective, which specializes in traffic safety control.

RELATED: Rooks' mother 'just furious' over fatal crash

Schuster faces one count of aggravated vehicular homicide, three counts of vehicular assault, three counts of aggravated vehicular assault and a single count of operating a motor vehicle under the influence. She's pleaded not guilty.

West Chester police arrested Schuster after a toxicology report indicated she was driving under the influence of marijuana. Court documents released shortly after the accident indicated authorities' suspicion of Schuster's sobriety during the incident.

A point of contention came over the search of Schuster's vehicle: Though the affidavits police used to get three search warrants all had the correct make, model and registration for Schuster’s vehicle, the actual search warrants themselves list a different car, a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt registered to a different woman, according to the Journal-News.

A search of Schuster’s vehicle with the flawed search warrant turned up three pills used to treat anxiety and panic disorder, a handicapped placard, stun gun, iPod, purse with the identification of the registered owner, insurance paperwork, vehicle title, $36 cash and three receipts, according to the return of search warrant document.

Schuster's attorney, Lawrence Hawkins III, wanted evidence from Schuster's car banned from the trial, along with statements she made to police and her blood tests.

Butler County Common Pleas Judge Keith Spaeth agreed Friday that evidence from Schuster's car should be kept out of her trial, the Journal-News reported.

But the judge found the blood tests and statements from police were permissible -- in the case of the blood tests, because officers had probable caused to believe she was under the influence. Because she was incoherent, Assistant Prosecutor Brad Burress argued, her consent to the blood tests was implied in the eyes of the law.

Schuster did not comment on Friday's proceedings as she left court, the Journal-News reported.

Her trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 8.

Read more about this case at the Journal-News, a WCPO media partner.