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Doctor Says Actor Admitted He Drove in Crash

An emergency room physician who treated actor Phill Lewis last December shortly after a car accident in Potomac testified yesterday that Lewis “reeked of alcohol” and that his demeanor changed substantially after the doctor told him someone had died in the early morning collision.

” `Do you mean I killed somebody?’ ” Scott Chapin, an emergency room physician at Suburban Hospital, said Lewis asked after the doctor told him of the death. Initially, Lewis was belligerent toward hospital workers, but he grew more cooperative after the doctor mentioned the fatality, Chapin said.

Chapin said he then asked Lewis whether he had been driving the other car involved in the Dec. 28 accident on River Road. “He hesitated and said yes he was driving,” Chapin said. “He said he had been out drinking all night at a bar.”

Chapin’s testimony, reinforced by testimony from another hospital worker and a police officer, came one day after other witnesses testified that Lewis had told them at the accident scene he was not the driver of the Buick.

Since Lewis, 23, went on trial Monday in Montgomery County Circuit Court, defense lawyers have been trying to raise doubts that he was driving the green Buick Century about 1 a.m., when it crashed head-on into a red Honda CRX, killing its driver, Isabel Duarte, 21, a nanny who was a native of Portugal.

Lewis, who starred in the short-lived television series “Teech” and appeared in the movies “City Slickers” and “Heathers,” is charged with vehicular manslaughter, homicide by automobile while intoxicated and driving while intoxicated. If convicted of the most serious charge of vehicular manslaughter, he will face up to 10 years in prison.

Defense attorney Barry Helfand has maintained that Lewis does not remember the crash or the events immediately preceding it. Citing his amnesia, and the fact that he was found sitting partly on the passenger side of the car, Helfand has contended that Lewis may not have been driving the Buick Century, which was owned by Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co.

Lewis’s father, Delano E. Lewis, is president of C&P, and the Buick had been lent to Delano Lewis while his personal car was being repaired, according to testimony yesterday. The younger Lewis borrowed the car from his father on the evening of Dec. 27, according to testimony.

Judge William C. Miller denied a defense motion yesterday to block introduction of evidence showing that Lewis was intoxicated on the night of the crash. Helfand argued that the blood test, taken without Lewis’s consent, was invalid because police had no reasonable grounds to believe that he was driving the Buick. But Miller rejected that argument, citing testimony from hospital workers and a Montgomery police officer who said he saw no evidence of anyone but Lewis in the car.

Sue Ballou, a chemist with the Montgomery County Police Department, testified that blood samples taken from Lewis were consistent with the blood type found on the front passenger seat and the roof of the driver’s side of the Buick.

In addition, Katherine Sullivan, a forensic chemist with the Maryland State Police, said Lewis registered 0.29 percent on a blood-alcohol test administered within two hours of the crash. Under Maryland law, a driver is intoxicated if his blood-alcohol level is 0.10 or higher.

Julie Lewis, a trauma nurse at Suburban Hospital, testified that Lewis told her that he had been driving the Buick when the accident occurred. She said Lewis “became very quiet” after medical workers told him of Duarte’s death.

Also yesterday, Officer Denise Rosenfeld testified that Lewis told her he was driving the car when she questioned him at the hospital. Rosenfeld said Lewis had a strong odor of alcohol and acknowledged he had been drinking that night. Lewis said he had consumed two beers before the crash, the officer said.

On Monday, a bartender at a Northwest Washington bar said Lewis drank three beers and two shots of tequila during a three-hour period several hours before the crash.

Client Reviews
"I have watched Mr. Helfand in trial and in negotiations. He is remarkable. Mr. Helfand is extremely knowledgeable in the law, and even more knowledgeable in the ways to deal with people." Afshin Pishevar, Criminal Defense Attorney in Rockville, MD
"I strongly endorse this lawyer. I have known Mr. Helfand for many years. We have worked together on cases and represented conflicting parties. I have watched Mr. Helfand in trial and in negotiations. He is remarkable." David Felsen, Criminal Defense Attorney in Rockville, MD
"It’s one of the biggest cases that’s been tried in Montgomery County in a long time,” said Steve VanGrack, a Rockville lawyer considering a Democratic bid for state’s attorney." Washington Post