West Richland teen testifies about his father's fatal car crash

Tri-City HeraldApril 23, 2014 

Geoff Folsom

Herald staff writer

A West Richland teen was riding home from wrestling practice with his dad last June when a Ford Taurus came at them head on.

Dylan Covert, 16, told a Benton County jury Wednesday that all he can remember next was his father, Steven S. Covert, shouting, "Oh (expletive)!"

"I immediately blacked out and woke up shortly after," he said. "I realized we'd been in a car accident."

When the Hanford High student came to he was still in his father's smashed car, looking for a way to climb out.

He finally managed to crawl through the smashed windshield.

Dylan was the first witness in the vehicular homicide trial of Natalie Michelle Lincoln, 33, of Richland.

She is accused of being under the influence of the prescription muscle relaxer baclofen when she drove her Ford Taurus across the center lane of Van Giesen Street near Kingston Road, hitting Covert's car on the front driver's side.

The impact spun his car into a collision course with a Subaru Outback driven by Patricia J. Ammonet of Richland.

Steven Covert, 50, later died at Kadlec Regional Medical Center. Dylan, Ammonet and Lincoln were treated and later released from the hospital.

Lincoln failed a test for horizontal gaze nystagmus, an involuntary eye jerking. The test was given four hours after the 8:02 p.m. June 11 accident, said Benton County Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor.

At the time, Lincoln told investigators she had been taking a prescription for baclofen because of a previous injury.

Forensic toxicologist William Anderson, who works for a private laboratory, testified Wednesday that baclofen can lead to failing such an eye test, though he said the levels of the drug found in Lincoln's blood were within the range for someone using it by prescription.

Baclofen can act as a central nervous system depressant like alcohol, testified another toxicologist, Sarah Swenson with the Washington State Patrol.

A warning label for the drug says users should be cautious while driving.

Anderson admitted when questioned by defense attorney Scott Johnson that adverse reactions to baclofen are less likely in someone who has used the drug for years with no side effects.

Johnson told the jury during his opening statement Wednesday that Lincoln has been taking the drug for three years with no problems, including while driving.

Johnson also said Lincoln's eye movements could have been caused by morphine, which she was given at Kadlec for pain after the wreck.

But Anderson testified that morphine cannot cause the eye jerking, but Johnson noted that morphine packages in New Zealand list nystagmus as a side effect.

Lincoln's blood samples were sent to Anderson's company, NMS Labs, after initial results with the state lab did not come back positive for any substance.

Baclofen was the only drug to show up in Lincoln's system in the NMS blood test, though she also told police she had taken prescription doses of the stimulant adderall and the antidepressant citalopram. An initial urine test came back positive for methamphetimine.

Johnson had asked Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell to prevent Anderson from testifying because Anderson did not conduct the actual blood tests. He instead reviewed results conducted by analysts in Pennsylvania from his lab in Nevada.

But Mitchell ruled that Anderson performed a good enough peer review on the samples to serve as a witness.

In his opening statement, Johnson told the nine-woman, five-man jury, which includes two alternates, that the accident happened when Lincoln looked down to check her speed because she typically sets her cruise control when in West Richland.

"She sets her cruise control often to make sure she's driving the right speed, especially through West Richland, where it's easy to get a ticket," he said.

But Bloor took time in his opening statement to say that Lincoln's story was not consistent with the evidence.

"This is a tragic accident, but it's much more than that," he said. "The collision should never have occurred, but it did because the defendant was driving while affected."

The trial continues today at the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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