GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Day one of testimony is underway in Marshall County in a trial for a young man accused in a July 2013 crash that left four teens dead and others seriously injured.
The proceedings started Wednesday morning around ten o'clock as dozens of potential jurors filed their way into Courtroom One at the Marshall County Courthouse in Guntersville. Adrian Renteria, facing seven charges including four counts of manslaughter, sat in the front of the courtroom. An hour later, the jury was set and the judge instructed them on their duty for the next several days, ordering them not to speak to anyone about the case, read about it, or watch the news.
Prosecutors say Renteria is to blame for the two-vehicle wreck that killed four people, 19-year-old Ryan Lawson, 21-year-old Blake Keener, 13-year-old Maegan Cordell and 18-year-old Ruben Pacheco. All four were in a truck that collided with the car Renteria was driving. Investigators say Lawson was driving the truck, Cordell was a passenger in the truck and Keener and Pacheco were in truck’s bed. The crash happened on U.S. Highway 431 near Guntersville. Renteria is facing four counts of manslaughter and three counts of second degree aggravated assault stemming from the crash. There were more than ten young people involved in the crash between the two cars. Witnesses said much of the group knew each other.
Renteria was indicted and arrested in November, 2013. Renteria has been held in the Marshall County jail since that time.
After lunch the indictment was read to the jury, detailing the seven counts Renteria is facing. Opening statements began directly afterward.
District Attorney Steve Marshall addressed the jury in opening statements for the State. Marshall detailed the crash, the victims, and their injuries. "This was not an accident. This was a crime," Marshall told the jury, going on to say Renteria is to blame for the crash, acting recklessly. Marshall said the jury will hear testimony from a variety of witnesses, some of whom were in the cars involved and passersby. Marshall said law enforcement and first responders will also tell the jury their recollections that day.
Marshall detailed how Renteria, the four teens, and several other young people had plans to go to Honeycomb, a popular swimming destination on that July day, traveling from Guntersville down U.S. Highway 431 to their destination. Marshall told the jury how Renteria's reckless actions caused the accident, and how he lied at the scene, saying he wasn't the driver of the car.
Defense attorney Michael Stevens addressed the jury next on Renteria's behalf. He told the jury how Renteria regarded the group of young people as family. Stevens told the jury how Renteria lost control of the vehicle on U.S. Highway 431 while traveling to Honeycomb, and couldn't regain it. "Adrian had no control over that car. It was a terrible accident, that's what it was. A terrible accident, and we acknowledge that, but it was an accident," Stevens said. He went on to tell the jury there is only one issue in this case, and that is did Adrian's actions rise to the level of recklessness.
State called its first witness to the stand, an official with Guntersville Fire and Rescue who detailed his actions when he responded to the crash as one of the first responders on the scene. The jury heard what the scene looked like, and how the witness responded to it. The witness said there were victims scattered throughout the area.
The State called its second witness to the stand, a passerby who had seen the crash while driving from Guntersville. The witness said something was thrown from the truck Lawson was driving toward the car Renteria was driving. The witness relayed how the object was thrown from the driver's side of the car, and that's when the car lost control, causing the crash. The witness said the passengers in the back of the truck flew off as it flipped.
The next witness for the State was John Chapel, an acquaintance of Renteria's. He told the court Renteria asked him to go to the lake that day, so he went. Chapel said the group of young people were in Guntersville and decided to go to Honeycomb, a popular swimming destination near Guntersville, down U.S. Highway 431. He said he was in the back of the truck Lawson was driving.
Chapel said Renteria was following closely behind the truck, and said it was close enough for one of the passengers in the truck to pour a drink on the hood of Renteria's car, telling him to not follow so closely. Chapel told the jury the last thing he remembers is Blake moving to tell Renteria to back off from following closely, and his next memory is waking up at the hospital. Chapel told the jury Renteria was driving erratically, following too closely, and changing lanes erratically.
Another witness, who calls himself Renteria's good friend, told the court he was friends with everyone involved in the wreck. The witness said Renteria was driving along with traffic, and couldn't tell if he was speeding. In response to the defense's question, the witness said he felt safe throughout the drive. He said Renteria's driving wasn't erratic, and the car wasn't swerving or behaving erratically. The prosecution asked the witness if the witness wanted to see Renteria convicted, and the witness answered no.
The State called Chris Burks to the stand. Burks testified he was driving on U.S. Highway 431 when he saw the crash happen. Burks told the court he saw a white truck coming up fast behind him, and got over while the truck passed him. Burks testified the truck was going between 70 to 75 miles an hour and said he noticed a blue car coming quickly, driving erratically, switching lanes. Burks said he thought something might happen to him and his family, who was with him at the time in their car.
Burks told the court the car caught up to the truck and pulled up beside it. Burks said it looked like something came out of the car on the driver's side toward the truck, and then the car lost control, over-corrected and hit the truck, causing the truck to flip. The defense questioned how far ahead the cars were at this point, and how Burks could adequately see the object coming from the vehicles.
Testimony will continue Thursday at nine o'clock.