DAY 2: White substance found, collision reconstructed

Thursday began with questioning about if Thomas Grooms tried to leave the scene of the crime.
Thursday began with questioning about if Thomas Grooms tried to leave the scene of the crime.

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.

Testimony on Thursday, March 22 began with questioning if Grooms tried to leave the scene of the crime. Deputy S.H. Silas with the New Hanover Co. Sheriff's Office said he did not see that happen. He showed the court the crime scene log, which was completed about three hours after the accident happened.

During his testimony, a photograph of Grooms taken on April 3 was introduced. Grooms was wearing a red, collared shirt with sun glasses hanging from his neck. He was looking directly at the camera when the photo was taken and it was clear that one of his top buttons was undone.

Detective Lauren White, a CSI investigator with the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office, also testified Thursday morning and was included on the crime scene log.


White described a straw she found on the floor board of Grooms' car that had a white substance on it. The substance was sent to the North Carolina Crime Laboratory for testing. She said she also collected five samples from Grooms' face, nostrils and mustache. White did not discuss any of the results.


Silas then went over several photos that White took at the scene. Some of the photos showed the bent and broken bicycles that the Doolittles were riding, and others had marks on the road and grass.

Joy Doolittle, the wife of David and mother of Trey, was in the courtroom again Thursday and became emotional during the testimonies. After photos of blood on the road and headphones by a bicycle were shown, the judge asked if she needed to step out. She said no and stayed in the courtroom.


Two Highway Patrol officers who worked on the investigation testified before the lunch break on Thursday. Trooper C.J. Lewis said he arrived on the scene at 9:53 a.m. He made a sketch diagram with exact measurements of where items were located. The prosecution showed the sketch to the jury on a poster board. To make the location of White's photos clearer, Lewis pointed out where each pictured item was on the map.

Trooper A.E. Barnes, who was declared an expert in the field of collision reconstruction, did not travel to the physical scene of the accident. He used Trooper Lewis' diagram to plug in a mathematical equation, which determined how fast Grooms' car was traveling.

Barnes testified that Grooms' vehicle was going 55 mph at the point of impact. He also explained to the jury how the computer system in a vehicle like Grooms' sedan works. After performing an "airbag download" of the computer, Barnes said he determined the airbags didn't deploy because Grooms didn't slow down quickly enough after the incident. The car exhibited a .2 mph change in speed; however, the sensors on the front of the vehicle indicated a crash had happened.


Joan Grady, a second grade teacher at Supply Elementary School in Brunswick County, testified that she went to dinner with Grooms on Saturday, April 2. While sitting at the restaurant's bar and at dinner, she said Grooms had two or three alcoholic drinks. In her opinion, however, he was not too intoxicated to drive home.

"He didn't seem like he had too much to drink," Grady said.

The following morning, around the time of the crash, phone records showed that Grady received a call. She didn't recognize the number and didn't remember if she thought it was Grooms. But when she picked it up, it was static, and sounded like someone dropped the phone.


District Attorney Ben David went on to show surveillance photos of Grooms at an ATM machine near Mayfaire in Wilmington. The photos were taken at 4:05 a.m. on Sunday, about eight hours after Grady said the pair left each other at the restaurant.


Sgt. Chad Parks with the N.C. Highway Patrol testified next. He told the jurors that he found a blue cloth bag in Grooms' vehicle and had it photographed. Inside the bag, there was an empty bottle of Southern Comfort. He also said he found a bottle of Bacardi 151 rum, about three-fourths full, in the backseat area. In the trunk, there was an empty bottle of wine with the cork replaced.

Parks told the court he saw the straw with the white substance in it that Detective White had discussed earlier. He said, at the time, he believed it was cocaine. He also explained that he used a point-and-shoot style camera to film parts of Grooms' field sobriety test, which was being performed by Trooper Brian Phillips. The video was not shown in court on Thursday.


Phillips testified for a brief time while the jury was outside the court room. During that time, he said that the substance in the straw was Mephedrone, a synthetic stimulant drug commonly referred to as bath salts. That information was not given to the jury because of a request made by defense attorney Dennis Sullivan. The prosecution indicated that a different "expert" witness will testify about what the substance was.


In front of the jury, Phillips said that he gave the field sobriety tests to Grooms and asked him for details about what happened during the crash.

Phillips said Grooms looked straight ahead the majority of the time he spoke and mumbled his answers. He described Grooms as "very relaxed," "care-free" and not chatty. He also said he detected a "mild odor of alcohol."

Grooms told the trooper that he was trying to answer his cell phone when he hit the Doolittles. Phone records later showed that an outgoing phone call was made at 9:29.36. He also said that he had not had anything to drink on that day, but had three drinks the night before with dinner.

During a sobriety test, Phillips instructed Grooms to keep his head still and follow his finger with his eyes. Phillips said that Grooms moved his head five times. He also explained that during a 30-second counting test, Grooms indicated that at 17 seconds, 30 seconds had elapsed. He said that made him think that Grooms was under the influence.

Grooms' written statement, made on the day of the incident, was read in court on Thursday. In it, Grooms wrote that he heard a bang and was surprised he hit something.

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