More details arise about mistakes in Irby crash investigation - - Jackson, MS

More details arise about mistakes in Irby crash investigation

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 By Monica Hernandez - bio | email | twitter

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - There were mistakes at every turn of the investigation into a fiery crash last February involving the wife of prominent Jackson businessman Stuart Irby, according to the Hinds County District Attorney.

Karen Irby admitted Friday she had been drinking and was speeding when she got behind the wheel of her black Mercedes and crashed into a Chevy pick-up truck on Old Canton Road, killing two people and seriously injuring herself and her husband, a passenger in the Mercedes.

She pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter, just days before her trial was scheduled to begin.

The charges were reduced from depraved heart murder after prosecutors discovered mistakes in the Jackson Police Department's initial investigation of the crash.

"This was the most I've ever seen in terms of mistakes," said Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith. "We've never seen mistakes to this degree."

Smith said police waited five days to reconstruct the accident. When the accident was reconstructed, the initial investigator miscalculated Karen Irby's speed, showing it was 114 miles per hour.

When prosecutors asked police to take a second look several weeks before the trial was set to begin, another investigator found Irby was actually going a minimum of 70 miles per hour.

WLBT is the only news station that was able to obtain both accident reconstruction reports.

There are a number of discrepancies between the reports. The initial report shows the crash victims, Dr. Mark Pogue and Dr. Lisa Dedousis, weren't wearing seatbelts when the Irby's Mercedes slammed into their Chevy pick-up. But the second, more detailed report shows the truck's interior was too burned to tell.

Through these reports WLBT has confirmed the investigator responsible for the first accident reconstruction was Christopher Barnhart.

He's the same officer who was reassigned to the dog pound (literally, animal control) after allegedly making derogatory comments about Michelle Obama while on security detail during the First Lady's visit to Jackson.

The second report was completed by Investigator Mike Huff on March 12, just over two weeks before the case was scheduled to go to trial. Prosecutors said Huff is an experienced investigator who was on the scene the night of the crash, but can't explain why he wasn't asked to conduct the investigation to begin with.

Instead, Barnhart was called to the scene from his home, even though, according to prosecutors, he was not on rotation that night.

"[Barnhart] should never have been called out to conduct the reconstruction. Absolutely not," said Smith. "He's not certified; he's never qualified as an expert. He's not state certified."

Jackson Police would not confirm that Barnhart was on the case, but said the initial investigator was certified to reconstruct accidents, although he failed a test that would have certified him to testify as an expert witness in court.

"That's the thing about the department," said Smith. "They have some very good and well-trained investigators and so, again, this was out of the ordinary for there to be so many errors in this particular case."

According to prosecutors, Barnhart waited three hours to give Irby a blood-alcohol test and used an expired kit to do so.

"The collection of blood was in an expired tube," said Smith. "Of course, the hospital has a number of tubes it can provide, but the blood was collected in this tube that was expired."

Prosecutors later subpoenaed medical records and discovered that the hospital administered a blood alcohol test one hour after the crash, showing a blood-alcohol level of at least .13. JPD's test, taken hours later, showed a BAC of .09.

"When it comes to an investigation, obviously, there are certain procedures that need to be observed, and for the most part, we've seen them followed. The question is, why wasn't it done in this case," said Smith.

Some have questioned Sheriff Malcolm McMillin's involvement in the case. He was Jackson Police Chief at the time, and Stuart Irby was one of his biggest campaign contributors.

McMillin refused to speak on camera about the case, but told WLBT he did not get involved in the case at all because he and Stuart Irby are good friends, and he didn't want any conflicts of interest to arise.

Meanwhile, the Hinds County DA's office says it's considering whether to conduct a grand jury investigation of JPD.

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