A former "Melrose Place" actress was driving drunk when her speeding SUV plowed into a turning car, killing a woman, but her lawyer has tried to convince a jury that others are to blame for the fatal crash and that what happened was an accident, not a crime.
Jury deliberations began Tuesday afternoon in state Superior Court in the aggravated manslaughter trial of Amy Locane-Bovenizer, 40, whose blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit when the crash occurred on a dark two-lane road in central New Jersey in 2010.
The defense agreed that Locane-Bovenizer was driving under the influence of alcohol. But her attorney sought to shift blame for the crash to a third motorist whose car she had rear-ended and who had been pursuing the actress — and also to the husband of the car accident victim for making what witnesses said was a slow, deliberate turn into his driveway.
Helene Seeman was killed in the crash, and her husband, Fred Seeman, was seriously injured.
"Nobody relishes standing up here blaming a man who tragically lost his wife," the defense attorney, Ellen Torregrossa-OConnor, said in closing arguments Monday. "However, in this accident, Mr. Seeman was in some way at fault for the actual collision."
Locane-Bovenizer faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of aggravated manslaughter and assault-by-auto charges. Separate motor vehicle counts related to her drunken driving are to be heard in a separate case. She did not testify during the trial.
To prove her guilty of aggravated manslaughter, the prosecution must not only show she caused Seeman's death, but also that she did so under circumstances showing extreme indifference to human life and by acting recklessly.
The actress appeared in 13 episodes of the TV series "Melrose Place" and in movies including "Cry-Baby," ''School Ties" and "Secretary."
Now a mother of two living in Hopewell Township and acting in community theater, she had begun drinking the night of the accident at a cast party, testimony showed. Witnesses said she also drank at a barbecue she later attended with her family before leaving on her own.
The prosecutor said Locane-Bovenizer sought to blame everyone but herself for the accident, and had an obligation to yield to the turning car, but she "didn't have the cognitive perception to see the other car."
The defense sought to place much of the blame on the accident on the third motorist, Maureen Ruckelshaus, whose vehicle the former actress had rear-ended minutes before the fatal crash.
Ruckelshaus pursued Locane-Bovenizer in her van after the fender-bender. She testified that she asked another motorist behind them to call police because she had left her cellphone at home, then told the clearly intoxicated driver to turn off her SUV, but that the woman drove off.
"I knew how drunk she was," Ruckelshaus testified. "My reaction was, 'Oh my God, I have to figure out a way to get her to pull over.'"
The defense portrayed Ruckelshaus as a vigilante who frightened the former actress by trying to grab her keys from the ignition and then giving chase. The defense said Locane-Bovenizer even offered Ruckelshaus her cellphone to call police.
Ruckelshaus denied reaching in for the keys. "I said, 'I don't want your cellphone. ... I want you to turn your car off,'" she testified.
Ruckelshaus followed the former actress for about four miles, with both going about the speed limit of 35 mph for most of the way until a car in front of them moved out of the way and Locane-Bovenizer accelerated to more than 50 mph, according to evidence presented at the trial.
"The defense is trying to shift the blame onto everybody else," Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Murphy said during closing arguments. "But who was the hazard on the roadway? Was it Maureen Ruckelshaus? No. Was it Fred Seeman? No. It was the intoxicated driver. She was the hazard."