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Drop charges in fatal crash, lawyer says

After tests show no drugs in Shanna West's blood, her attorney says she should at least be able to post bail.

By BRADY DENNIS and RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001


DADE CITY -- Despite Shanna West's admission that she was high on drugs the night she caused a fatal accident, her attorney said Friday that a state blood test found no drugs.

He wants the charge against her dropped.

West, 21, was charged April 3 with manslaughter by culpable negligence in connection with a head-on crash she caused Nov. 21 on U.S. 41, less then 12 hours after she was released from a Tampa jail on charges of driving under the influence.

The crash killed 54-year-old Barbara Mercer of Dade City and left three others injured.

At her formal arraignment on Friday, West pleaded not guilty and will have a pre-trial hearing on July 26.

Her attorney, Robert Ford, asked Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson for 10 days to attack the state's evidence, which he received Thursday.

West's blood was sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for testing after the accident.

Records show two separate FDLE analysts tested West's blood; neither found evidence of drugs.

"One of the reasons for holding her without bond was all the drugs that supposedly were in her system," Ford told a Times reporter outside the courtroom. "If the judge had the information in front of him that I've reviewed, I think he might make a different decision."

At a recent hearing, prosecutor Phil Van Allen said FDLE crime labs do not test for GHB, the drug West said she took the night of the wreck. GHB, commonly known as the date-rape drug, causes both euphoria and sedation.

Nevertheless, Ford said he plans on filing a motion to dismiss the charge altogether. If that doesn't work, he at least wants to earn West the right to post bail.

"This is the first time I've ever seen someone not charged with murder held with no bond," he said. "Even people who confess to second-degree murder are given bond. This is very extreme.

"There's no one giving her the benefit of the doubt on anything. The bottom line is, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty."

While Ford is busy trying to lessen the charges against West, Van Allen is working to make them more severe.

Prosecutors sent the blood samples to a private lab that will test for GHB. Van Allen said he intends to raise the charge to DUI manslaughter if the results come back positive.

West, who had her license suspended 10 times in the three years leading up to the fatal accident, pleaded guilty in February to the DUI charges from earlier on the day of the crash.

She sat with other prisoners in the jury box Friday, wearing handcuffs and a blue prison-issued jumpsuit.

Directly across from her, filling two pews in the gallery, sat Mercer's family, among them her mother, husband and two sons.

Sunday will be their first Mother's Day without Barbara. They are planning to go from church to put flowers on her grave.

"It's probably going to be pretty difficult," said Tony Mercer, 17. "It's been very hard to adapt. You never know what it will be like."

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