A Key West woman charged with vehicular manslaughter for the 2015 crash on South Roosevelt Boulevard that killed a dental hygienist went on trial Tuesday with an insanity defense.
April Thomason’s public defenders say she was undergoing Xanax withdrawal at about 6 p.m. Sept. 16, 2015, when she drove her black Mercedes into Stephanie Collins, who was walking on the oceanview sidewalk with a friend.
The friend jumped out of the way, but Collins didn’t move in time before Thomason’s car jumped the sidewalk and ran over her, witnesses said.
Thomason is pleading not guilty by reason of temporary insanity because she said she was going through withdrawal that day after not taking Xanax for eight days. Blood tests showed no intoxicants in her system at the time of the crash.
Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne, however, told jurors Tuesday morning at the Monroe County Courthouse that Thomason chose to get behind the wheel that day.
“It was her decision to stop taking Xanax, cold turkey,” Dunne told jurors during opening statements. “She decided to operate her car that day.”
Footage from a police body camera will show Thomason was aware of what happened after the crash, Dunne said.
Thomason was originally charged with murder for the crash.
Public defender Kevin McCarthy asked jurors to put aside emotion and focus on the facts and the law.
“People’s memories are not going to match the science,” McCarthy said.
The jury heard from several witnesses Tuesday, including Ian McNab who was walking side-by-side with his close friend Collins along the waterfront that afternoon.
He said the black Mercedes was coming straight at them.
“I jumped to the right; I saw Stephanie rolling underneath the car,” McNab testified. “I landed on the grass.”
McNab cried on the stand when asked to identify a photo of Collins.
Judy Mills was on vacation from New Jersey when she saw the crash from the passenger side of a vehicle.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she said.
Mills said she was close enough to watch Collins stop on the sidewalk and wave her hands at the Mercedes’ driver, mouthing the words, “What the [expletive].”
“She went under the car,” Mills said.
Thomason told Key West police that as she was coming down off the anti-anxiety medication, she began praying while sitting inside her car at the beach. As she prayed, “she began to shake and her feet pointed up and down,” Officer Kuniko Keohane wrote in her report.
She also told police God is responsible for making her run over Collins, according to the report.
“She said she didn’t know if she hit the female, because God arched her back, causing her to look up, so she did not see the female,” Keohane wrote.
But Thomason did admit aiming her car at a bicyclist, Jorge Cunedo.
“She could not tell me why she did, only that she aimed at the bicyclist,” Keohane wrote.
A man jogging nearby that day also said Thomason tried to run him down. Walter Fraddosio Jr. was staying at the Sheraton Suites Hotel on South Roosevelt. He said he saw Collins get run over, and then the Mercedes came after him. As the car neared him, he was preparing to jump the sea wall into the ocean, he told police.
Moments before the incident, Fraddosio said he saw a woman standing beside the same car “screaming hysterically at the trees and salt pond across the street,” according to Keohane’s report.
Defense attorneys will argue this week that Thomason was suffering from a mental disease recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as Severe Anxiolytic Withdrawal Syndrome, according to a clinical psychologist hired by the defense.
“While in this state she was psychotic and delusional,” Dr. Frederick Covan wrote in a 2017 follow-up to his evaluation of Thomason. “She could not appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions. She was legally insane.”
Thomason hasn’t left jail since her arrest after the crash. She is being held on $500,000 bond.