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Gavel

Jonie McFarland was driving to her Natrona County home on Aug. 23, 2017, from a nursing shift at Memorial Hospital of Carbon County when she saw a puff of smoke ahead on the road.

McFarland pulled over near two wrecked vehicles and ran to the nearest, which was unrecognizable. The driver was dead. The passenger sat in shock.

She heard someone speak.

“There’s a baby in the car,” she heard them say. The 3-year-old in the backseat had a pulse, but it was soon gone.

Another woman lifted the child, later identified as Jaehyeok Seo, from the vehicle and McFarland set to work performing CPR on the baby.

She tried to bring the baby’s heartbeat back for 45 minutes, only stopping when a life-flight helicopter arrived at Wyoming Highway 220 near Independence Rock and medical staff pronounced the child dead.

When McFarland finished giving her account in Natrona County District Court, Assistant District Attorney Ava Bell asked her what happened next. The witness’s voice broke.

“We said a quick prayer,” she said. “And covered him.”

McFarland testified Monday afternoon in the trial of Alexander Richardson, 34, of Lusk, who faces two counts of aggravated vehicular manslaughter and a single count of aggravated assault.

The charges stem from the wreck McFarland described, which killed two South Korean tourists — Seo and Soon Young Lee, 46, the child’s mother and the vehicle’s driver — and injured a third person, Bong Jun Seo, the child’s father and passenger in the vehicle.

Richardson has pleaded not guilty. During Monday’s opening statements, his attorney, Don Fuller, said Richardson is responsible for the wreck but that he did not commit the crimes prosecutors have charged him with. Richardson, Fuller said, was negligent, not reckless, when he collided with the SUV on his way home from a more than 13 hour shift at a Utah oil rig.

The distinction could mean the difference between a prison sentence of up to 50 years and an acquittal.

The trial began with three hours of jury selection, which, when completed at noon, produced a 12-person jury evenly split by gender. Attorneys also selected a single alternate juror, a man.

After the lunch break, Judge Kerri Johnson, presiding over her first jury trial since being appointed to the bench in December, gave preliminary instructions to the jurors. Bell then delivered her opening statement, beginning by saying prosecutors would not refer to the wreck as an “accident” over the course of the trial.

The wreck, Bell said, was entirely the result of human error. Richardson, she said, knew the risk of his decisions but failed to consider the consequences.

The prosecutor then named a dozen witnesses — mostly medical professionals and law enforcement officers — whom she plans to have testify over the course of the trial. Seo, who will speak through an interpreter, is also scheduled to take the stand.

A Highway patrol crash reconstruction will show that Richardson was not awake at the time of the wreck, Bell said. She said she would call for jurors to find Richardson guilty of the three felonies and then ceded the lectern to Fuller.

“It’s semantics,” Fuller said, beginning his statement with a reference to Bell’s distinction between an accident and a crash. He said that he agreed the wreck was his client’s fault and Richardson likely fell asleep at the wheel.

The crimes prosecutors charged are not appropriate and the investigation was flawed, Fuller said. The lawyer said Richardson was suffering a head injury and under the influence of medically-provided painkillers when he made statements to law enforcement following the wreck.

Richardson is responsible for the wreck, Fuller said, but not guilty of the crimes prosecutors have charged him with.

“Is he homicidal?” Fuller asked jurors, rhetorically. “Or simply a young man that made a tragic mistake?”

The trial is scheduled to resume 9:30 Tuesday morning.

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Follow crime reporter Shane Sanderson on Twitter @shanersanderson

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Crime and Courts Reporter

Shane Sanderson is a Star-Tribune reporter who primarily covers criminal justice. Sanderson is a proud University of Missouri graduate. Lately, he’s been reading Cormac McCarthy and cooking Italian food. He writes about his own life in his free time.

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