Lawyer in fatal hit and run wants crash scene pics tossed

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Curtis Harper appeared in criminal court for a status hearing to check if everything is still on track to begin trial next month.

Harper's attorney wants certain pictures of the crash scene omitted, while the state wants them included. The judge will decide on a picture-by-picture basis before the trial starts.

Jury selection was also discussed. The judge said the state and defense will each get the standard eight peremptory challenges, plus one peremptory challenge for each alternate that is selected. Peremptory challenges allow each side to dismiss potential jurors without stating an exact reason.

The Thornell and Soto families were both in court for the hearing and appeared emotional. They didn't want to comment.

Harper's trial is still set to begin on April 8.

Investigators say Harper was under the influence while driving his SUV last May after leaving The Hill, a downtown bar, when he slammed into Thornell and Soto on Washington Pike. Soto had stopped to help Thornell and her friend, Sarah Tinder, after they ran out of gas. Thornell's unborn daughter was also killed.

Police reported they found pieces of Harper's 2004 Ford Explorer at the scene of the crash on Washington Pike early that morning. Traces of blood, skin and hair were also found on the car during the search. The car is registered to his parents, Pam and Herb Harper of Franklin, TN.

The warrant also claimed witnesses told police Harper admitted "He hit someone on the side of the road."

Harper is charged with three counts each of Vehicular Homicide by Intoxication and Vehicular Homicide by Reckless Endangerment.

He also faces two DUI charges, and one charge each of Tampering with Evidence, Failing to Render Aid after an Accident, and Reckless Endangerment.

Harper had previous run ins with the law. According to the Grand Jury Indictment, he was arrested on a DWI in April of 2009.

Authorities also said Harper was arrested for possessing drug paraphernalia following a traffic stop in Knox Co. last year, but charges were dismissed. In 2008, he was convicted of theft of property under $500 in Franklin, according to the Williamson Co. Sheriff's Office. His sentence was suspended after serving 48 hours at the Williamson Co. Jail.

Harper graduated from the University of Tennessee in May 2012. He majored in Plant Sciences, with a concentration in Landscape Architecture and Design.

Civil cases are also pending. The Thornell and Soto families have filed lawsuits against Harper, his parents and the bar they say served him too much alcohol.


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