Text messages, friend’s testimony tell a story of day of Scout crash
“I just hit some one. in dead”
That was the message Thomas Murphy sent his wife just minutes after the alleged drunken driving crash that claimed the life of 12-year-old Wading River boy Andrew McMorris last September, an investigator told jurors on the second day of the Holbrook man’s trial in Riverside Wednesday.
Prosecutors revealed a series of text messages and videos that help frame the events leading up to and following the fatal crash that also severely injured another Boy Scout as they hiked with a group along David Terry Road in Manorville on Sept. 30, 2018.
In his testimony, Ed Solomon, a detective investigator with the tech services unit of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, detailed events captured from Mr. Murphy’s cell phone, including text messages exchanged with family members and the friends he played golf with at Swan Lake Golf Club in Manorville that day.
The message to his wife Jackie came just three minutes after the first 911 call to report the crash. In opening arguments Tuesday, prosecutors noted that five 911 calls were made from the scene, but none were from Mr. Murphy, who instead reached out to his wife.
“what?” Ms. Murphy wrote back seconds later.
“i hit someone cios are coming” [sic].
The evidence shared Wednesday in the trial before Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho showed Mr. Murphy in an affectionate mood in the exchanges he shared that afternoon. He sent his family loving text messages within an hour before the crash, including one that said he could “kill” for his daughters.
In the video clips, two of Mr. Murphy’s friends, Ray O’Brien and Chris DiMaria, can be seen on the golf course dancing to electronic music while Mr. Murphy comments, “That’s my boy … my two [expletive] buddies … I love you.”
Friend takes the stand
Steven Meola, who described himself as a 35-year friend of Mr. Murphy’s, testified Wednesday that he cautioned against his friend continuing to drink that afternoon after they encountered a beverage cart on the 16th hole of the golf course.
The 58-year-old Queens man, who said he’s an unemployed doorman, testified that Mr. Murphy, Mr. O’Brien and Mr. DiMaria were mixing drinks from a bottle of vodka brought by Mr. DiMaria by the time they reached the third hole of a round that began around 8:30 a.m.
Mr. Meola, who said he does not consume alcohol, could not testify to how many drinks his friends consumed, but he “thought [Mr. Murphy] had enough.”
MORE TRIAL COVERAGE
Day 1: Prosecutors say Murphy turned down ride from sober friend moments before fatal crash
After being showed the videos from Mr. Murphy’s phone, Mr. Meola said he believed he could hear “a little bit of slurred words” coming from his friend. He also testified that Mr. Murphy was having trouble walking.
After golfing, Mr. Murphy refused two offers from Mr. Meola to drive, Mr. Meola testified. From the passenger seat of Mr. O’Brien’s SUV, Mr. Meola described how he witnessed Mr. Murphy swerving off the roadway and eventually into “a large number of people on the side of the road.”
“The first child jumped out of the way,” he said. One victim, he said, was hit in the head. “It spun him like a helicopter,” also striking his legs, Mr. Meola said.
They alerted Mr. DiMaria about the crash and together returned to the crash site, where Mr. Meola described seeing Mr. Murphy standing near his car.
“Am I in trouble, Stevie?” Mr. Meola recalled Mr. Murphy asking. “I said, ‘Murph, some of these kids are hurt real bad.’ ”
Mr. Meola said the two men haven’t spoken since.
Upon cross examination, defense attorney Steven Politi pulled Mr. Meola’s friendship with Mr. Murphy into question, pointing out that the men have seen each other infrequently over a longtime friendship.
“These aren’t your friends, Mr. Meola, right?” Mr. Politi said.
“Yes, they’re my friends,” the witness replied.
Mr. Politi questioned why Mr. Meola, who had a revoked license, took a cab to meet Mr. O’Brien that morning, as he had testified.
“Your good buddy Ray didn’t want to go out of his way?” Mr. Politi asked.
Mr. Meola said he lives in the opposite direction of the golf course and suggested he take a cab himself.
The defense also pointed to scoffs on Mr. Meola’s license and unanswered parking tickets dating back to 2015.
Mr. Politi took issue with testimony Mr. Meola gave before a grand jury last October, where he described Mr. Murphy as being “impaired.”
In court Wednesday, however, Mr. Meola used words like “intoxicated” and “drunk.”
A readback of that testimony led to a heated exchange between Mr. Politi and Mr. Meola, prompting Judge Camacho to rise from his seat to tell all parties to calm down and that he would “not lose control of his courtroom.”
Mr. Meola’s cross examination by Mr. Politi is expected to continue Thursday.
Prosecutors have said a blood test of Mr. Murphy taken nearly four hours after the crash showed a blood alcohol content of .13. A toxicologist is expected to testify during trial that Mr. Murphy’s likely BAC was .19, more than twice the legal limit, at the moment of impact.
Assistant scoutmaster testifies
Earlier Wednesday, assistant Scoutmaster Robert Dougherty took the stand for more than two hours, describing the hike the Scouts had been on and the “chaos” that ensued after Mr. Murphy’s SUV crashed into the group of boys.
Mr. Dougherty said he was last on the line of Scouts, including his son Brandon, and heard a loud “thumping” noise as he came around a Jeep parked on the side of David Terry Road.
“I looked up and saw Andrew McMorris in the air. A split second later, that white vehicle was stopped right next to me,” he said, further detailing how he threw his hiking pack off and rushed up front to begin accounting for the Scouts.
“I saw all my boys laying in the road, on the shoulder, the grass,” he said.
As Mr. Dougherty caught up with the group, he overheard Mr. Murphy exclaim “Oh [expletive], I’m in trouble,” after exiting the vehicle.
Mr. Dougherty wiped away tears as he listened to a 911 call made moments after the crash. In the recording, he can be heard telling Mr. Murphy “you better not go nowhere.”
In court, Mr. Dougherty said that prior to making that statement, he had told Mr. Murphy to “Shut the [expletive] up,” because he believed he was only concerned for himself.
“He was standing by his car just screaming and yelling,” Mr. Dougherty said, adding that Mr. Murphy flailed his arms up in the air and paced back and forth behind his car.
“For someone involved in a crash like that, I would think they would at least try to offer some help or something,” he said. “His actions were so bizarre.”
Mr. Dougherty said that while the boys and adults likely changed positions in line during the hike, he never witnessed anybody enter the roadway.
“I myself have a tendency of always hollering ‘hug the grass,’ ” he said, to remind the boys to stay away from the road on hikes.
Mr. Politi maintained that the boys were poorly supervised on the 20-mile hike, repeating a statement he made in his opening arguments Tuesday.
“I don’t think they were hit in the shoulder,” he told reporters outside of the courtroom. Mr. Politi also doubted that the Scouts crossed roadways in a safe way earlier in the hike.
“If you’re going to be lax on certain safety issues, certainly you’re going to be lax on others,” the attorney told reporters.
He also contends that the route of the hike was changed to include walking on multiple roadways after permission slips were signed and returned.
“That’s troublesome,” he said.
Several times while questioning witnesses in the first two days of the trial, Mr. Politi has focused on their prior meetings with law enforcement and representatives from the District Attorney’s office.
He later said he was concerned about groups of witnesses meeting together to “share information that may not be in your memory.”
District Attorney Timothy Sini briefly observed the proceedings from the gallery before a break, at which point Judge Camacho questioned Mr. Politi’s “tone” during his cross examination of Mr. Dougherty.
Testimony in the trial, which is expected to last three to five weeks, will continue Thursday. Following a day off Friday, the trial will begin again next Monday.
Mr. Murphy is facing a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.