Jurors in the 59th state District Court will likely start deliberations Thursday morning in the case of a wreck that started with an incidence of road rage and cost a Denison woman her leg.
Tripp Bird pleaded not guilty this week to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and accident involving a serous bodily injury charges. Those are the only charges the jury will consider this week even though Bird and his friend Joshua Haliburton have each been indicted on a laundry list of charges, including murder in connection with the July 29, 2016 wreck on FM 691 that severely injured Jennifer Russell.
Assistant Grayson County District Attorney Don Hoover said the D.A.’s Office will decide what to do about the other charges based on the outcome of this week’s trial. Haliburton’s case is set to go to trial in 2020.
Testimony in the case Wednesday included the findings by Sherman Police officer Mark Wood, who conducted an accident reconstruction on the wreck. The jury also heard from Bird himself via a video taped discussion he had with DPS Trooper Tarif Alkhativ months after the wreck.
On Tuesday, the man who was driving the car in which Russell was a passenger testified that the whole thing started when Bird cut them off on Loy Lake Road as they were headed to a job interview Russell had at IHOP. James McGee said once Bird cut in front of them in his Hyundai Tiburon, he continually brake-checked the Crown Victoria they were in. McGee said that continued as they drove down the road and at the bridge over U.S. Highway 82, he got out and spit on the driver of the Tiburon, a man McGee said he didn’t know. That man responded, McGee said, by getting out of his vehicle and going over to the Crown Victoria and assaulting McGee, or at least attempting to do so. When the light changed, McGee said, he pushed the other driver away and took off. McGee drove Russell to her appointment, and they thought the situation was over.
Talking to Alkhativ months after the wreck, Bird left out the part about cutting the Crown Victoria off and didn’t readily admit to attacking the man who had spit on him. He also attempted to leave Haliburton’s part of the situation out of his discussion with the trooper.
McGee had told the trooper that he was driving Russell back from her appointment when he noticed the Tiburon was near them again at around the Sherman Town Center. McGee said the car got behind them and followed them as they drove along Loy Lake Road and headed to FM 691. At the intersection of those roads, he said, a vehicle he hadn’t notice before pulled up beside him and the driver, a young man, started screaming threats at them. That driver, other witnesses would testify this week, was Bird’s roommate Haliburton. Witnesses testified that after fighting with McGee, Bird had gone back to his apartment and told his friends about the altercation. They decided to go look for the person who had dissed Bird. One woman had joined Bird in his car and several other people had ridden with Haliburton.
Seeing that the Tiburon driver was not alone in his apparent quest for a fight, McGee said he tried to get away from them as he pulled on to FM 691 but the Tiburon was still behind him. He said he tried to make it to Grayson College where he thought he would find safety in numbers. When he got there, he found the college’s parking lot empty because it was a summer Friday afternoon.
McGee said the Tiburon passed him and once again slammed on the brakes. Trying to keep from getting “boxed in,” McGee said, he attempted to go around it and when he did, he went into the lane of oncoming traffic and his car was struck by a truck. The truck struck Russell’s side of the car and she suffered multiple broken bones, as well as other serious injuries. She would eventually have 22 surgeries and lose her right leg to the injuries sustained in the wreck, before dying months later.
Alkhativ said he issued McGee citations for driving at an unsafe speed, passing in a no passing zone and driving with an expired license. But, he said, that didn’t end his investigation into the wreck.
McGee had told the trooper that there was another vehicle involved in the wreck and he wanted to find out who was driving that vehicle and what part it had played in the wreck. He was still investigating that in October when he had an extra rider in his car. That rider heard as Alkhativ talked with Russell on the phone about the incident. The rider asked about the wreck and when he heard it had occurred on July 29 on Loy Lake and involved a guy getting out of his car to beat on another guy, he said he had witnessed it. And, he had video. The video, Alkhativ said, allowed him to see the license on the Tiburon and that led him to Bird.
Bird said he never saw the wreck.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what to do,” Bird told the trooper, and said, “I don’t see how I could have,” when asked if he thought he caused the wreck.
Micah Belden, Bird’s attorney, asked the trooper why he never checked to see whether McGee was drinking on the day of the wreck. He asked whether the trooper checked McGee’s car for alcohol containers in McGee’or whether he had McGee’s blood tested for alcohol. The trooper said McGee showed no signs of intoxication at the time of the crash. Belden then asked whether the trooper had checked to see if McGee were under the influence of any type of illegal substance at the time of the crash and Alkhativ said he had not because there was no indication of that.
If convicted, Bird could face up to 20 years in prison.
Jerrie Whiteley is the Criminal Justice Editor for the Herald Democrat. She can be reached at JWhiteley@HeraldDemocrat.com.