Defendant says she doesn’t remember crash

FRONT ROYAL – Brooke Nicole Spindle, on trial for involuntary manslaughter, told a Circuit Court jury Tuesday that she had no memory of the fatal crash that took the life of her friend Holly Anne Smedley, 25, more than two years ago.

Spindle’s brief, emotional testimony came about two hours before the jury of nine women and three men began their deliberations.

Spindle choked up as she declared that she didn’t remember the tragedy in the days afterward, and she didn’t remember it now. The entire day of the crash on Jan. 24, 2014. is lost to her, she said under questioning by defense attorney John Bell.

“I know that I was in an accident, but I don’t recall the accident,” Spindle said.

Spindle is one of two vehicle occupants who survived the crash of a 2010 Ford F150 pickup truck on Browntown Road. Smedley died a few hours later at Winchester Medical Center.

The other occupant, Jason Louderback, 32, identified Spindle as the driver of the truck at the time of the crash, although the truck was owned by Louderback.

The case turned on whether the jury would determine that Spindle or Louderback was driving the pickup truck or whether there was no way to tell who was behind the wheel at the time of the crash.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton said the evidence showed that Spindle was indeed the driver and should be found guilty.

Layton called the crash “a tragedy” and the product of a “poor choice.”

“She never wanted to kill her friend, but she did,” Layton said of Spindle in his closing argument.

After leaving the witness stand, Spindle broke down in tears. Circuit Judge Ronald Napier ordered a recess until the defendant could regain her composure. She returned to the courtroom a few minutes later, but spent much of the remainder of the afternoon with her head bowed and wiping her eyes at the defense table.

Bell spent part of the trial attacking the credibility of Louderback, specifically his assertion that Spindle was the driver of the truck.

Both sides agreed that Louderback had been buying beer, liquor and mixed drinks for Spindle and Smedley at the Knotty Pine restaurant earlier in the day. The three got in Louderback’s pickup truck in mid-afternoon and drove around Gooney Manor Loop. At one point, Louderback testified, he stopped the truck to urinate. He testified that when he returned to the truck, he found Spindle sitting behind the wheel. He agreed to let her drive.

The truck crashed and overturned shortly afterward on Browntown Road. A passerby removed Spindle, who was leaning halfway outside the truck, from the driver’s side of the vehicle.

Layton and Bell disagreed as to the significance of Spindle’s location in the vehicle after the crash.

Bell argued that the petite Spindle could have been riding on the passenger side of vehicle and was thrown by the impact of the crash and roll over in such a way that she ended up on the driver’s side. Neither Spindle nor Louderback was wearing a seat belt, and no air bags deployed.

Layton dismissed Bell’s arguments as “speculation” and urged the jury to remember that the truck’s damage was concentrated on the driver’s side, and Spindle suffered her injuries on the left side of her body.

“Apply your common sense,” Layton told the jury.

Bell downplayed photographs showing Spindle at the Knotty Pine and behind the wheel of Louderback’s pickup truck. Bell said there was no data to show who had taken the photos or when they were taken.

Layton said the photos showed Spindle wearing the same clothing behind the wheel of the truck and at the Knotty Pine. He also reminded the jury that Spindle had testified that she had not been behind the wheel of the truck until the day of the crash.

Bell said blood found on the driver’s side of the truck was later identified as Louderback’s, a strong indication that he was the driver.

Layton said Louderback’s blood was found throughout the truck, and Spindle’s blood was missing because she was partially ejected during the crash.

Carol O’Neal, a toxicologist with the state Department of Foresenic Science, testified that Spindle’s blood alcohol level registered .18 to .20 at the time of the crash. Bell argued that the blood alcohol level could not be trusted because the prosecution had failed to identify anyone who had conducted the actual test, and the chain of custody – the process by which law enforcement tracks the handling of evidence and makes sure it has not been altered – was shoddy.

The jury adjourned for the night Tuesday and is scheduled to begin deliberations again on Wednesday morning.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com