The man accused of being high on meth while driving the wrong way on Interstate 80 and triggering a chain-reaction crash that killed five young people from Arkansas is pausing his homicide prosecution for a mental health evaluation.
Arthur Nelson, 57, of Limestone, Tennessee, faces five aggravated vehicular homicide charges and reckless driving, reckless endangering and DUI charges for driving the wrong way on I-80 near Sinclair and allegedly causing the multi-vehicle crash that killed five students on their way home from a visit to a Rock Springs Bible college.
Carbon County District Court Judge Dawnessa Snyder paused the case May 4 so the Wyoming State Hospital can evaluate Nelson’s mental competence.
State Hospital personnel, who oversee competency matters for criminal defendants, have until early June to file an opinion on whether Nelson is well enough to face prosecution.
Lawyer Has Doubts
Snyder’s order came after Nelson’s defense attorney Patricia Bennett told the court she has doubts about her client’s competency.
“Defendant has also demonstrated difficulty in understanding the legal concepts related to his charges and how his actions relate to his charges,” wrote Bennett in her motion, adding that she’s met with him several times to explain the charges against him.
“Although he seems to understand when concepts are explained, he does not retain that information in a manner that assures counsel of his understanding,” she wrote in a document filed May 3.
Nelson pleaded not guilty to the charges two months earlier on March 3.
The judge at the time asked Nelson if he has any type of mental or educational disability that would burden his understanding of that arraignment hearing.
“Nah,” answered Nelson, according to the court transcript.
“Excuse me sir, if you would answer with yes, ma’am, and no, ma’am, I would appreciate it,” said the judge. “I will also show you the same respect.”
“OK, ma’am,” said Nelson, who appeared by video because a winter storm kept his attorney from arriving in person.
If That Happens
If Snyder decides Nelson isn’t mentally competent, the state will treat him to try to make him competent enough to face prosecution.
If medical personnel and the court decide Nelson can never be made competent, then the state can continue to incarcerate him as long as he is still considered a threat to himself or others.
Nelson is accused of driving east in his Dodge Ram 3500 in the westbound lane of traffic on I-80 the evening of Jan. 22, colliding with a commercial truck and another car.
“As the Dodge truck collided with the passenger car, a driver of a second commercial truck attempted to avoid the approaching truck by driving into the median,” the Wyoming Highway Patrol reported in a press release about the crash.
That second commercial truck, owned by MS Freight, went through the median and into the eastbound travel lanes, where it hit a Ford F-150 “head-on,” the report says.
Those vehicles “immediately became engulfed in flames,” and all five people in the Ford F-150 were killed, the Highway Patrol reports.
Some people in the other vehicles involved in the crash were taken to area hospitals with what the Highway Patrol says were “critical injuries.”
Shock, Grief For Community
All five of the people killed in the F-150 were young people ranging in age from 18 to 23 returning to their hometown of Sherwood, Arkansas, after a weeklong visit to Jackson Hole Bible College in Jackson, Wyoming.
Two were seniors at Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood, a small community about 10 miles north of Little Rock, Arkansas. The other three were recent graduates of the same high school.
They are Suzy Prime and Ava Luplow, both high school seniors, and Salomon Correa, Magdalene “Maggie” Franco and Andrea Prime, all former Sylvan Hills High students who also attended the Bible college, said Elizabeth Dilts, a member and spokesperson designated by Faith Bible Fellowship church in Sherwood.
Contact Clair McFarland at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com
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