Trial under way for driver in deadly high-speed chase
KINGMAN - Prosecutor Jacob Cote said the case against Robert James Dodd, the man accused of second-degree murder in the April 22, 2014, death of Linda Chevalier following an erratic high-speed police chase, is "very serious, but straightforward" when he delivered his opening remarks earlier this week.
Defense attorney Arthur Higgs said Dodd is likely "guilty of something," but it wasn't murder. He reminded jurors that many of the witnesses who would testify against Dodd are former or current law enforcement officers from three agencies - and all of those agencies have been named in legal action for wrongful death filed by Chevalier's family.
It was after 5 p.m. on a Tuesday when Dodd, 43, with law enforcement in pursuit, allegedly ran a stop sign while driving between 40 and 45 mph in a 25 mph zone on Packard Avenue. Chevalier was driving on Bond Street and had the right of way when she was hit.
Chevalier, 66, a prominent Kingman resident, died of her injuries a few hours later at Kingman Regional Medical Center. Dodd and his passenger, Bridget Bartlett, who was 25 at the time, also were injured.
Dodd, whom law enforcement was actively seeking at the time as a wanted parole absconder who had engaged law enforcement in at least one other reckless pursuit eight days earlier, was indicted on 11 charges. In addition to second-degree murder, he faces two counts of aggravated assault regarding Bartlett, two counts of felony DUI for allegedly being under the influence of drugs while driving on a suspended license, possession of meth, two counts of criminal damage - one regarding damage to the borrowed vehicle he was driving and the other for damage to Chevalier's - possession of drug paraphernalia, and two counts of felony endangerment, regarding two women who allegedly found themselves in Dodd's path prior to the fatal crash.
Cote said Dodd was under the influence of methamphetamine and amphetamine the day of the accident.
"He blew through the stop sign, killing Linda Chevalier, while running from the cops," said Cote. "This case is very serious, but straightforward."
Cote said Highway Patrol Sgt. Ernie Severson, who has since retired, saw Dodd driving in northern Kingman in the area of Stockton Hill Road. He had been tipped off Dodd was in the area and given the make, model and license plate number of the car Dodd was driving. He attempted to pull over Dodd, but the man kept driving. Severson was driving an unmarked car, but one outfitted with flashing lights in its grille and strobe lights that can be activated within the headlights and taillights.
Two officers from Kingman Police and another Highway Patrol officer responded, along with a Mohave County Sheriff's detective.
"He was driving at a high speed," said Cote, "on both sides of the street. He had numerous opportunities to stop, and he finally did come to a stop when at high speed he blew through a stop sign and T-boned Linda Chevalier."
Cote said Dodd, despite injuries sustained in the crash, attempted to run when a Mohave County Sheriff's detective intentionally used his patrol unit to strike the Nissan Versa Dodd had been driving.
"The state is wrong," said defense attorney Higgs. "This is not a very simple case. This was a tragic accident, but you have to decide if Mr. Dodd is guilty of what he's been charged with ... it's not a simple decision to make."
There are two ways to be guilty of second-degree murder, said Higgs. One is to "knowingly cause a death." While it could be argued Dodd didn't know he would cause a death that day, the second element of second-degree murder is to "act with extreme indifference to human life," said Higgs, adding he thought Dodd was probably guilty of something, but not murder. He said jurors would likely have the option to find Dodd guilty of what's known as a lesser-included offense, such as manslaughter or reckless homicide.
"Hovering in the background, you will hear evidence that the [Kingman Police, Mohave County Sheriff's Office, Mohave County, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety] have all been sued. It's a civil suit. Why is this important? Every officer has it in their best interest to paint Mr. Dodd in the worst possible light, either consciously or subconsciously."
Dodd was sentenced to 15 years in prison last summer after a jury convicted him on several felonies related to another high-speed pursuit with law enforcement that occurred a little more than a week prior to Chevalier's death.