Cop on scene of fatal Mobile wreck: ‘Man, he must have been hauling’
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - After a legal fight over admissibility, jurors in a reckless murder trial on Thursday watched police body camera footage of officers and first responders at the scene of a fatal accident in 2020.
Jonathan Pishoi Nakhla, a former neurosurgeon at Mobile Infirmary, faces a charge of reckless murder in the death of Samantha Thomas.
Prosecutors played about a half-hour of video from body cams from the scene of the accident on the Interstate 65 Service Road near Airport Boulevard. That includes an officer’s first encounter with Nakhla, who can be seen flashing a police identification badge he has been issued as a Mobile Police Department volunteer surgeon. The prosecution has alleged that he used that badge and a similar ID card to get out of speeding tickets in the past.
Prosecutor Ashley Rich also has argued that the defendant was primarily motivated by a desire to avoid legal culpability for the Aug. 1, 2020, crash and was more upset over his totaled car than the fate of his passenger.
On cross-examination, though, police officers acknowledged that Nakhla did express concern for the Thomas, who was a 24-year-old medical student. Defense attorney Dennis Knizley highlighted video showing his client asking about her and trying to make sure she got help.
Mobile County Circuit Judge Ben Brooks put the jury in recess after hearing some of the audio he had ordered to be muted inadvertently was played for the jury. Testimony will resume after lunch.
There is no doubt the accident was horrific. Nakhla’s Audi Spyder flipped several times after he lost control of it on the service road near Airport Boulevard. The car hit the I-65 guardrail. Initially, officers were unsure whether the car had been on the intestate or the service road. Officers on body cam footage can be heard saying that multiple drivers had reported that debris had hit their cars as they were driving on I-65.
Nakhla told officers he did not know where he was asked which side of the interstate he was on.
The testimony followed a lengthy session outside the jury’s view in which Brooks watched video to determine whether jurors could listen to the audio. He ruled that portions of it must be muted. The judge, for instance, ruled that statements by police officers describing the victim’s body were inadmissible hearsay.
The judge also rejected a defense request to play portions of another video in which an officer talks about how it appears the accident happened – that Nakhla was driving on the service road and lost control of the vehicle when someone pulled in front of him. That bolsters the defense theory that another driver – and not the defendant’s recklessness – caused the wreck.
“This is not a close call,” Brooks said.
The judge did allow the defendant’s own words from the body cam to be heard. He offered a similar explanation while he was sitting in an ambulance at the scene.
“I slammed on the brakes to avoid the car,” he told an officer. “And then after that, I don’t remember anything.”
Nakhla told the officer he was driving about 50 mph. Some officers viewing the aftermath apparently thought the speed was much faster.
“Man, he must have been hauling,” one officer said on a body camera.
Prosecutors intend to present evidence from the car’s so-called black box indicating that the sports car was moving at 138 mph seconds before impact.
The judge ruled other audio must be muted, including a conversation about gun control that Nakhla had with an officer at the hospital. The defense argued it was irrelevant. Rich said she was offering it to show the defendant’s mental state – that he appeared chatty and lucid.
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