Thursday, February 27, 2003

Defendant says he wasn't driver

He testifies he switched with drunken friend

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The man accused of slamming an SUV into a group of people, killing one, outside a Bengals game told a jury Wednesday he wasn't driving.

Darrin Stafford said he's been lying to protect a friend since the Nov. 18, 2001, accident on Second Street.

Stafford said he was in the passenger seat, but switched seats with driver Frederick Shipman because Shipman had been drinking, he testified in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

"Mr. Shipman basically said. `They're not going to do anything to you,'" Stafford said. "`You're not drunk. You're paralyzed, what are they going to do?'"

Stafford, 31, of Evansville, Ind., is on trial for charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault. The charges allege Stafford, a paraplegic, was driving himself and Shipman to the Bengals game when he lost control of the vehicle, plowing through the crowd. Fifteen-year-old Scott Asbrock of Mason, died after being struck by the Kia Sportage.

Shipman, 44, is facing the same charges, along with additional charges of reckless homicide and vandalism. Shipman should not have allowed Stafford to drive, the charges allege.

His trial is scheduled to begin Monday, also in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

Stafford was not capable of driving a car that had not been specially equipped for his disability; his license was suspended; and he, too, had been drinking, causing a blood alcohol content of 0.043, prosecutors said.

Attorney Bryan Perkins, who represents Stafford, did not dispute those facts. They don't matter, he contends, because Stafford wasn't driving.

Previously, Stafford told police that he finished the drive when Shipman fell asleep. When Assistant Prosecutor Gerald Krumpelbeck pointed out the discrepancy, Stafford said. "My statement (then) was not true."


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