NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Thomas Grooms is on trial in a New Hanover County courtroom for the deaths of David Doolittle and his 17-year-old son, Trey. State troopers said that Grooms hit them while they were riding their bicycles on River Road just before 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 3, 2011.
Assistant District Attorney Doug Carriker began his opening remarks on Wednesday, April 21 for the prosecution by describing the geography of River Road. He said the road is 12-miles long with no businesses and few residents, making it "ideal for biking." According to Carriker, the Doolittle family would often go biking on the road together, using the bike lanes, which are approximately four-feet wide.
JOY DOOLITTLE TESTIFIES
Joy Doolittle was the first to take the stand. She told jurors and District Attorney Ben David that she was separated from David at the time of the accident and was living in Charlotte. While on the stand, Joy recounted getting the phone call about her family being hit and immediately drove to Wilmington.
Joy said when she got to the hospital Trey was in a medically-induced coma. After being told that Trey had a "severe dramatic brain injury" and was clinically brain dead, Joy decided that her son would want to donate his organs to help others. Because he was so fit, Trey was able to donate his heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and his eyes. She testified that he was able to save four people.
OTHER BIKERS TELL THE JURY WHAT THEY SAW
A woman who was training in the area the same day of the accident was next to take the stand. Michele Eggleston said she saw the vehicle—which she indicated was a silver sedan driven by Grooms—drive off the road into the grass, in front of her and her biking partners. She said the vehicle was swerving back and forth over the white line, close to the bike lane. She and her friends—including Maureen Curis, who testified next—were about two to three miles down the road from the accident when it happened.
Curis told the jury that the car did not jerk back on the road, but slowly maneuvered back into the driving lane. After she heard a siren and was told that an accident involving cyclists had occurred moments later, Curis said, "It was pretty shocking."
FELLOW RIVER RD. DRIVER TALKS
The state also called Eric Lee Cole, an assistant manager at the Walmart in Leland, to the stand. Cole used River Road on the morning of the incident to go home after work. He drove about three to four car lengths behind Grooms' vehicle and said his sedan swerved off the side of the road, into the bike lane and the grass, a total of four times. The final time he swerved off the road, Cole testified that dust flew up.
After Grooms' vehicle was out of his sight, Cole witnessed two bodies on the side of the road and saw brake lights. He said Grooms' sedan was making a U-turn. The courtroom listened to the 9-1-1 call made by Cole and heard him tell the operator, "Both of them are bleeding from the skull."
Cole told the 9-1-1 operator that a male and female had been hit. Afterwards, he indicated that because of the nature of David's injuries, he couldn't tell the gender of the victim.
MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS TALK ABOUT TREY'S CONDITION
Dr. Thomas Melin, the brain surgeon who was taking care of Trey at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, told the court "As a general rule, the odds of survival are less than one percent. The odds of meaningful cognitive recovery…are zero, with the exception of perhaps a miracle." Melin said Trey's lungs were punctured on both sides and he had fractures on his spine, in addition to swelling of the brain. In order to relieve pressure on Trey's brain, Melin said he drilled a small hole in the right frontal region of his skull.
MILLER WITNESSES GROOMS HIT THE DOOLITTLES
Next on the schedule was Robert Miller. The 25-year-old was driving a black SUV on River Road and said that he saw a silver vehicle swerving behind him, but "it didn't seem to be endangering anyone." He assumed it was a mistake that the driver quickly corrected.
When Miller saw the Doolittles on their bikes, he said he moved over to give them space and he testified that they were smiling.
As he passed, he looked in his rear view mirror and witnessed Grooms' vehicle strike both Doolittles. He became emotional as he described David's head hitting the vehicle's windshield.
"I couldn't believe it. I blinked and I no longer saw David. I saw Trey in the air," Miller said. "It might sound funny, but I prayed."
Prior to the playing of Miller's 9-1-1 call, Joy Doolittle became noticeably emotional. Judge Paul L. Jones, of Kinston, stopped the testimony to tell the Doolittle family that they were excused.
Miller told the 9-1-1 dispatcher, "He (Grooms) was right behind me. I saw him hit both of them, oh my Jesus Christ."
OFFICIALS RESPOND TO THE SCENE, TESTIFY
Deputy Paul Bowers, of the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office, who was off-duty on April 3, testified that he drove up on the scene shortly after the accident. In addition, Matthew Stevens and Eric Jernigan, from the New Hanover County EMS, were called on by the District Attorney.