A Richland woman was acquitted Friday of vehicular homicide after she was accused of driving under the influence and killing a man last year.
Natalie Michelle Lincoln, 33, shook as the verdict was read in Benton County Superior Court.
She had been on trial for the death of Steven S. Covert, 50, who was killed June 11 when her Ford Taurus collided with his car on Van Giesen Street near Kingston Road.
Lincoln had prescriptions for several drugs and took the stimulant adderall, muscle relaxant baclofen and antidepressant citalopram the day of the crash, she told police.
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A blood test showed only the muscle relaxant was in her system.
Lincoln’s attorney, Scott Johnson, told the Herald after the verdict was read that his client should have never been charged in the first place. He called the situation tragic and said Lincoln is ready to move on with her life.
“It’s been a nightmare for Natalie and it’s good to have this finally over for her,” he said. “There was never a case. Alex (Sheridan) and I tried to convince prosecutors early on there was no way they could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Covert’s family, including his children and wife, were in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
The family is disappointed with the verdict but hopeful that the case will help bring awareness that driving under the influence is dangerous, they said.
“The one thing that we have held onto is that no matter what, we are still a family and we always will be,” said Covert’s wife, Cindy, surrounded by family. “I lost my husband, they lost their dad, they lost their son, brother, friend. We can’t get that back, but we can’t let this take away what we have as a family.”
Five of the 12 jurors stayed after the verdict to talk with Johnson and prosecutor Terry Bloor.
The jurors didn’t feel there was enough evidence to prove Lincoln was under the influence when her Taurus slammed into Covert’s car, Johnson and Bloor told the Herald.
Bloor felt there was enough evidence to charge Lincoln and that the prescription drugs in her system affected her ability to drive, he said.
“We accept the verdict. We are disappointed but understand the jury’s decision,” Bloor said. “The basic bottom line was that (the jurors) felt we didn’t have enough evidence to prove Ms. Lincoln was affected by the prescription drugs.”
A forensic toxicologist testified at the trial that the levels of baclofen found in Lincoln’s blood were within the range for someone using the drug by prescription. Experts said the drug can act as a central nervous depressant like alcohol.
An initial urine test from Lincoln following the crash tested positive for methamphetamine. Lincoln passed a field sobriety test at the crash site given by a Washington State Patrol trooper. However, additional testing at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland showed Lincoln was intoxicated.
A drug recognition expert with the Richland Police Department also concluded Lincoln was impaired.
Lincoln told investigators she was looking down at her cruise control right before the collision happened.
Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org: Twitter; @Ty_richardson