Judge to decide key evidence in vehicular homicide case

The admissibility of key evidence in a South Whidbey vehicular homicide case will be decided at a hearing in Coupeville on Friday.

Langley defense attorney David Carman will argue in Island County Superior Court that the blood results for Michelle Nichols, the South Whidbey woman charged in the Valentine’s Day car crash that killed a Freeland man in 2015, should be tossed due to a procedural error by state police.

“The State Patrol didn’t get a warrant and didn’t even try,” Carman said in a Monday interview with The Record.

The suppression hearing begins at 1:30 p.m.

Nichols is charged with one count of vehicular homicide under the “DUI prong” of the charge for the death of Tim Keil. It’s the most serious and carries the longest potential sentence, from 78 to 102 months in prison under the standard sentencing range. She pleaded “not guilty” in September.

The prosecutor’s case against Nichols could be affected if a judge rules that Nichols’ blood results are inadmissible. It could result in a plea deal, an agreement reached outside of court and approved by a judge.

Rumors that just such an agreement is under consideration have swirled, but Island County Chief Criminal Prosecutor Eric Ohme confirmed in an email to The Record Tuesday morning they were false.

“There is no plea deal that is imminent,” wrote Ohme. “The state plans on litigating the motion to suppress on Friday.”

The car accident occurred on the evening of Feb. 14 on Highway 525 near the intersection of Coles Road. Nichols, then 46, was southbound when the van she was driving crossed the centerline and struck Keil, 61, who was traveling northbound in a passenger car.

Keil died at the scene and Nichols was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. It was there that her blood was drawn by state troopers, but without her consent as she was unconscious. Her blood alcohol content was .11, which exceeds the legal state limit of .08.

Friday’s hearing seeks to suppress those results on the grounds that the blood was taken without a warrant and the blood draw didn’t apply under what’s known as “exigent circumstances” — matters of timeliness where evidence can disappear or a judge can’t be reached.

Nichols’ blood was taken nearly three hours after the accident, when Nichols failed to wake to speak with the officer and after doctors had confirmed they had given her two units of blood, according to the state patrol’s referral to the prosecutor’s office.

Carman argues that there wasn’t enough evidence to get a search warrant, that police didn’t have what was needed to justify blood removal under exigent circumstances. When asked what outcome he expects from Friday’s suppression hearing, he said the decision is up to a judge but that the ruling may be favorable to the defense.

“We wouldn’t have filed a motion if we didn’t feel we had a chance,” Carman said.