Injuries examined in homicide trial
A medical examiner testified Thursday that he believed 18-year-old Ericka Dane was hit by a vehicle, most likely a tire, and thrown down the road before sustaining a fatal skull fracture.
Noah Motto, 23, is charged with the death of Dane, who was his girlfriend at the time. He is on trial for leaving the scene of a crash with death and vehicular homicide/failure to provide help or information, both first-degree felonies. He is being held at the Volusia County Jail.
The fatal crash happened around 2:30 a.m. on March 24, 2021, at Greenvale Drive and Ormond Green Boulevard, down the street from Dane’s home in Ormond Beach, prosecutors said.
Another hit-and-run case:Pedestrian killed in hit and run on US 92 east of DeLand
That morning, Motto and Dane had gone home after buying booze and going to a bonfire with friends. The couple had sometimes bickered during the night, according to accounts.
Dane wanted Motto to spend the night at her house, but he didn’t, according to reports. Motto got into his truck and drove down a road back to the intersection.
Meanwhile, Dane headed for the intersection. When Motto arrived in his truck, Dane approached the vehicle. But Motto walked away, punching her and not stopping, prosecutors said.
Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano is presiding over the trial before a jury of eight and two alternates.
DNA found on the right rear tire of the truck matched Dane’s DNA, Assistant District Attorney Erica Kane said.
Volusia’s medical examiner says it would be unusual for a fall to cause a fractured skull
On Thursday, Volusia County Chief Medical Examiner James Fulcher said Dane died of blunt force trauma to his head and neck. Her skull was fractured and she suffered a spinal cord injury, he said.
Fulcher also testified that she had a blood alcohol level of .196, which he said was essentially 2.5 times the legal limit. Fulcher did not specify what the legal limit is, but in Florida the legal limit for driving is 0.08.
Fulcher described a spot on the back of Dane’s head as the point of impact. He said she suffered a fracture that separated part of her skull from the rest of her skull.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Sullivan asked Fulcher how he thought she received the injuries.
“She was moving down a road impacting various sites before finally hitting her head,” Fulcher said.
Fulcher said an injury in his right hip area showed signs of curvature that could be caused by a rotating object.
Sullivan displayed a photo of one of the truck’s tires on the screen.
“I believe the body of Ericka Dane, in my opinion, the body was propelled forward by contact with the vehicle, specifically that tire,” Fulcher said.
Fulcher said it would be unusual for a fall to fracture his skull.
“The severity of this injury would be atypical for a simple fall,” Fulcher said.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Lily McCarty asked him how he classified the manner of death. Fulcher said he classified it as an accident.
McCarty asked Fulcher if it was possible Dane was running, and fell and twisted, hitting the back of her head.
He said it was possible.
But Fulcher also said an ordinary fall was unlikely to cause the injury.
“It would be atypical for a healthy 18-year-old to suffer such a severe impact from a simple fall,” Fulcher said.
Sullivan then asked Fulcher to classify the death as an accident. Fulcher said that for his death to be considered a homicide, a vehicle must be intentionally used as a weapon.
Motto appeared to show no emotion throughout the day as he sat with his lawyers. He sometimes talked to his lawyers, and at one point he smiled about something with a lawyer.
Noah Motto had his bail revoked
Motto had been released on $30,000 bail until March 3, when he was taken to the county jail. Prosecutors successfully revoked Motto’s bail after finding video of him on social media drinking Twisted Tea, an alcoholic beverage, while driving a vehicle in December 2021, according to court documents.
There were several young men in the vehicle; an occupant was standing through the sunroof, and the front-seat passenger also appeared to have an alcoholic drink, according to the query.
Volusia detective testifies to the marks on the pickup
On Thursday, Assistant State’s Attorney Kane called Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Detective Peter Bethea to the stand.
Kane presented photographs of Motto’s Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. The truck was lifted with tires sticking out of the wheel arch. The black truck was covered in dirt.
Bethea pointed out a relatively clear streak down the right side that ran down to the right rear tire. Bethea testified that this part of the truck appeared to have come into contact with something. He also said there appeared to be fingerprints on the right front passenger window.
‘I only have my word’
During cross-examination, McCarty pointed to several swipes, including the one Bethea testified to, on the dirty truck, each time asking if he knew how long the swipes had been on the truck. McCarty also pointed to places on the truck where someone had scribbled words in the dirt. McCarty asked for each if he could tell how long they had been in the vehicle.
Bethea repeatedly replied, “I don’t know.”
Bethea collected swabs to check for DNA from the passenger side rear tire, passenger side rear door flap, passenger side, rear quarter panel exterior and passenger side rear door exterior.
During cross-examination, McCarty asked Bethea if he recorded a video taking DNA from the truck.
Bethea said he didn’t because it wasn’t common practice.
“Besides your word that you said you did this, where is anything documenting where you picked up these alleged swabs,” McCarty asked.
“Other than my documentation?” said Bethea.
“Your word?” Says McCarty.
“My word. All I have is my word,” Bethea said.
Defense asks detective to work with victim’s mother-in-law
McCarty then asked Bethea if he had ever worked at a crime scene with Dane’s mother-in-law, who also worked in the sheriff’s office.
Bethea said he did.
Bethea said he couldn’t remember if Dane’s stepmother was working part-time at the time, but he said she was not at the crime scene.
“But you know her,” McCarty asked.
“Yes,” Bethea said.
“You worked with her,” Bethea said.
“Yes,” Bethea said.
“She was at the crime scene with you before,” McCarty said.
“Yes,” Bethea said.
McCarty asked where the DNA swabs were stored between when the samples were processed on March 25, 2021, and when they were sealed the next day.
“They would have been in the processing room of our crime scene unit on a shelf,” Bethea said.
“For 24 hours unsealed?” said Bethea.
“Yes,” he said.
“And that’s in the Volusia County Sheriff’s office?” McCarty said.
“Yes,” Bethea said.
“Where did Ericka Dane’s family members work with you? said McCarty.
“Yes,” Bethea said.
During the redirection, Prosecutor Kane asked Bethea about access to the crime scene processing room.
Bethea said it can be accessed with an ID card and has an electronic lock that logs access times. He also said it was possible to access it with a key.
He said that once he retrieves the swabs, they are put back into their sleeves and then placed in an envelope.
He said he believed five people worked in the crime scene unit.
“And was anyone from the Dane family in your unit at the time in March 2021?” Kane asked.
“No,” he said.
“Did anyone from the Dane family have access to the treatment room after you placed those swabs there at the time,” Kane asked.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Bethea said.
Kane later asked, “Does that mean if no one from the Dane family was in the unit, does that mean no one from the Dane family would have had access to that room in March 2021.”
“That’s right,” Bethea said.
In response to another question, Bethea said the only time he remembered video recording of DNA collection was when it was taken from a person.
The trial continues Friday.