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Christmas Eve crash trial delayed a week

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Posted: Monday, September 14, 2009 11:00 pm

 The trial of a Tempe man charged with the Christmas Eve 2007 fatal drunk-driving crash on Pecos Road was pushed back a week due to a change in legal counsel and unavailability of an expert witness and Vietnamese interpreter. 

Phoenix police say Christopher Lee Smith, 32, was driving under the influence while driving eastbound on Pecos Road for several miles in the westbound lane, when his vehicle collided with a van near 14th Street that contained four Ahwatukee residents, Phoenix Police Sgt. Joel Tranter said.

Smith’s blood alcohol concentration was recorded at around 0.20 nearly two hours after the time of the collision, which is 150 percent over the legal limit of 0.08, according to police and court officials.

The van was hit head-on by Smith’s Buick Regal at approximately 11:14 p.m. on Dec. 24, 2007, police said.

Ngyon Chung, 47, was driving the van that had three female passengers inside, including Trang Vo, 34, Kiem Chung, who was 40 at the time of the crash, and Tuyet Nguyen, who was 39.

Vo died after she was admitted to Maricopa Medical Center, while Chung and the two other female riders were in critical condition after sustaining serious injuries from the crash. The four victims were related, according to Tranter.

Smith’s trial was scheduled to begin Monday but several factors forced the change to next week, when Judge Timothy Ryan will then meet with the attorneys again and assign the case to an available court.

Smith is facing charges of one count of second-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault, for which he could be sentenced to a maximum of 22 years for the murder charge and a maximum of 15 years for each assault charge.

Smith has been in jail pending a $750,000 bond after pleading not guilty to all charges in January 2008, according to court documents.

At the time of the crash, Smith was on probation for a previous misdemeanor DUI when he was pulled over with a 0.104 BAC in May 2005 and plead guilty, according to the court minutes filed on Oct. 28, 2008.

Both sides of the case elected to stay rather ambiguous about what Smith’s defense strategy would be when the trial officially begins.

Deputy county attorneys Mike Munoz and Allister Adel, the prosecutors representing the State, are preparing for what they think will be claims of “sleep driving” as Smith’s main form of defense, Munoz said.

When asked if “sleep driving” would be used as the prime defense argument, defense attorney Chad Schell, who is representing Smith, also remained vague about the situation.

“Something like that,” Schell said.

The trial is expected to last “probably a week,” Schell said.


Stephanie Snyder is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.

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