By Patti Weaver

 

    (Stillwater, Okla.) — A Drumright man was acquitted Monday of first-degree manslaughter in the accidental death of Cushing body shop owner Curtis Sams, who was killed by a truck veering off Main Street in Cushing into his parking lot where he was operating a leaf blower in front of his business at 8:23 am on Sept. 28, 2020.
    In ruling that the prosecution had failed to prove 39-year-old Christopher Clint Collier was criminally responsible for the fatal crash, District Judge Phillip Corley said, “There is no doubt this is a tragedy — a good man lost his life through no fault of his own.”
    After the judge found the truck driver not guilty at the close of a trial in which both sides had waived having a jury, the family of Curtis Sams quickly walked out of the courtroom.
    Collier hugged his lawyer, Royce Hobbs, who had argued to the judge, “Mr. Collier had an incident 10 days before,” in which he fell asleep at the wheel. “He sought medical treatment. The doctor gave him a prescription without any restrictions on his driving.
    “This is a tragedy, not a criminal act. He followed doctor’s orders. A tragedy is not a crime.”
    In his closing argument, prosecutor Jose Villareal told the judge, “Mr. Sams’ death did occur at the hand of the defendant. He crossed the yellow line, two other lanes and jumped a curb,” before his truck fatally struck the victim.
    “Mr. Collier is a professional driver. He did have the element of culpable negligence,” emphasizing that an incident occurred a week before, when he fell asleep at the wheel.
    “He knew he should not have been on the road at the time. There was nothing presented to this court that this was a medical episode. The defendant did go left of center.
    “The defendant had a previous occurrence of this happening before — a guard rail incident a week before on a highway.
    “The defendant testified he didn’t drive for a period of time after that incident. He (later) continued to drive because the defendant had no personal responsibility,” at the time of the fatal crash, the prosecutor argued.
    At the trial Monday, Dr. Randy Grellner, a family physician in Cushing, testified that a week before the fatal crash, Collier said at an appointment that he was having fatigue and “falling asleep at the wheel.” The physician said that on Sept. 21, 2020, he prescribed a stimulant to keep Collier awake.
    Under questioning from the defense lawyer, Dr. Grellner testified that he saw no reason why Collier was unsafe to drive. Asked if Collier had a medical episode at the time of the fatal crash, Dr. Grellner testified that he did not know, but “it almost had to be.”
    Dr. Craig Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at the medical school of Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, testified that the stimulant prescribed for Collier a week before the crash was used for patients such as Collier, who has sleep apnea.
    Under cross-examination from prosecutor Debra Vincent regarding Collier’s taking the prescription drug Ambien, Dr. Stevens testified it is the “number one sleep medication in the world,” and emphasized that “the FDA doesn’t say ‘don’t drive’ on any of these medications. “Billions of people are on the roads with these medications,” he added.
    On the first day of the trial on Nov. 28, former Cushing Police Officer Kurt McKean, who now is a deputy with the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office, testified that when he was called to the fatal crash scene, Collier was very emotional and began to cry. He said that Collier told him he had not been drinking and couldn’t complete a field sobriety test.
    Cushing Police Sgt. Jack Ford testified that when he arrived at the crash scene, “Mr. Collier was telling me ‘I tried to stop the truck.’ He said he hadn’t drunk anything that day.” Collier repeatedly told him “I don’t know what happened. He said he must have pushed the gas instead of the brake,” before the fatal crash.
    At a preliminary hearing, Cushing Police Detective Jerrod Livergood had testified that Collier had four prescription medications in his blood — the short-acting tranquilizer Xanax, a sedative used as a sleep aid called Ambien, the muscle relaxer Flexeril, and the anti-depressant Prozac.
    Before the judge issued his ruling acquitting Collier of any criminal liability in the fatal crash, he listened to victim impact statements from his wife and daughters.
    Sams’ widow said, “This crime has taken my best friend away. I don’t have my husband of 34 years. I was 16 years old, and he was 19 years old when we got married. Now I am alone. I don’t work so it took my income. He was a great businessman. He always went out of his way for his customers at his auto body shop.
    “At one time before he owned his own business, he worked three jobs so I could stay home with our daughters. He was a very giving person of his time and money. We have been getting help from our church. I don’t know how I am going to look for a job. I have a hard time watching my granddaughter because I am so sad all the time. I miss him so much.
    “He was a strong man. He lost his mom to cancer when he was 12 years old. He loved God. He was a selfless person. So many people came to his funeral. Every day has been very hard because Curtis is not here. I have had to sell his stuff to pay auto body shop bills. I had to sell his shop and all his possessions That was very hard for our family and I.
    “When we woke up on Sept. 28, 2020, it was normal. By 8:23 am it was a nightmare I can’t wake up from.”