It’s hard to fathom anyone who spent any length of time in the Capital Region last December (or January or February) not hearing about the horrific Northway crash that claimed the lives of two Shenendehowa High School students and seriously injured two others last Dec. 1.
Media coverage of the tragedy; its impact on the victims’ families, school community and Greater Capital Region; the arrest of the man who allegedly caused the crash; and continued efforts by people both within the region and outside it to offer consolation was as comprehensive as any local news story in recent memory. Newspapers and TV were saturated with stories on the subject for much of the winter and well into spring.
Does that mean — as attorneys for Dennis Drue, the 23-year-old man accused of causing the accident, are now arguing in their bid for a venue change — that he couldn’t get a fair trial in Saratoga County, or elsewhere in the immediate Capital Region? Theoretically, he could — if it were possible to find jurors who somehow hadn’t heard much about the case, or weren’t influenced by what they’d heard. Frankly, though, that seems a bit hard to believe given the enormous amount of media coverage the story generated and, more importantly, the highly emotional nature of it.
Indeed it was a compelling — and heart-wrenching — story: A pair of attractive, wholesome high school couples on their way home from an innocent Saturday night date at the UAlbany-Siena basketball game when their SUV gets clipped by a motorist driving as if playing an arcade game, and later gets accused by police of being high on alcohol and marijuana. No wonder there was such an outpouring of grief, and so much interest by outsiders in helping the victims’ families and their community cope with the tragedy, and heal. It had to have been difficult, if not impossible, to read about or watch the intense emotional impact the tragedy had on so many without being affected by it.
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III doesn’t disagree, but still thinks an unbiased jury can be found, and that an attempt to do so should be made before a venue change is considered. That may be how it’s normally done — Christopher Porco’s trial a notable, if not sole, exception — but it’s hard to imagine that changing the venue in mid-trial would be easier or cheaper than doing so before it gets under way.