DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The driver who fatally crashed into a woman on a Fort Greene sidewalk in 2015 had earlier complained that his SUV was leaking fuel fumes inside the vehicle and had caused him to pass out and hit a truck, the lead investigator on the case testified Wednesday.
The jury on Wednesday also saw surveillance footage of the crash in which Marlon Sewell’s Chevy veers onto the sidewalk and kills 30-year-old Victoria Nicodemus. The footage shows no obstacles in the way of Sewell’s car and no brake lights on the Suburban in the lead-up to the crash. Detective Frank Passarella said it was clear to him Sewell’s SUV was effectively unmanned just before the collision.
“No evasive action was taken,” he said.
Sewell is charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of Nicodemus stemming from the December 2015 collision.
Prosecutors have brought multiple witnesses to testify that Sewell’s car was overdue for its inspection, unfit to drive and had a broken fuel regulator that was leaking gas fumes inside the 2004 Chevy Suburban.
On Wednesday, Passarella — a collision investigator and the lead detective on the case — testified that Sewell told him in an interview shortly after the crash that fumes had previously caused him to black out and sideswipe a tractor trailer while driving in The Bronx about a month before the Fort Greene collision. Sewell also told police a mechanic had alerted him about a gas leak in the car, but he couldn’t afford to fix it.
Prosecutors are trying to prove Sewell recklessly caused Nicodemus’ death by ignoring problems with his car that led to the crash.
Sewell, however, never blamed the December 2015 collision on gas fumes, Passarella said; the defendant told him he drove onto the Fulton Street sidewalk because he was swerving to avoid another car and a city bus in the roadway.
But Passarella said Sewell’s explanation of the crash was not consistent with video evidence. As part of his testimony, the jury watched surveillance footage of the crash that showed Sewell’s Chevy traveling eastbound on Fulton Street, then veer to the right through the intersection of South Portland Avenue and travel up onto the southeast corner where it struck Nicodemus and her boyfriend as they walked on the sidewalk.
Sewell’s lawyer Damien Brown insisted after the testimony that prosecutors cannot prove gas fumes in the car caused the crash (according to testimony, no hazardous materials tests were taken on the scene or immediately after the crash) or that his client recklessly caused Nicodemus’ death.
“In this, he makes the wrong decision, for whatever reason. … Who knows? But that’s the definition of an accident,” he told DNAinfo New York. “You have no scientific evidence.”
He added that Sewell — who was originally charged with a misdemeanor for driving with a suspended license, then indicted on the more serious felony manslaughter charge following a petition by the Nicodemus family — is a victim of “political pressure” in the case.
“This was a political prosecution from the get-go,” he said.
Elsa Nicodemus, Victoria’s mother, refuted that claim Wednesday, saying her family did not call on prosecutors to bring any specific charges against Sewell, but only “pushed for them to investigate.”
She and her four remaining children have come to the trial every day. She and one of her sons drive two and a half hours to Brooklyn from Dutchess County, where the family has run a vehicle repair business since the mid-1980s. To her, “it’s very obvious that he was poisoned by, and fell asleep from, the gasoline,” she said.
“He was not in control of his car,” she said. “He killed my daughter when he was unlicensed and the car was uninspected and there’s no other way to look at this case.”
The trial is set to continue Thursday in front of Judge Vincent Del Guidice in Brooklyn Supreme Court.