As mother of passenger waits, driver charged

Monday, January 21, 2013
Tim Conrad

For the last six weeks, Tammie Van Troba, like her 21-year-old daughter, has made a home of a St. Louis hospital room.

Since just after a Dec. 8 crash, Van Troba has returned to Cape Girardeau only for short spurts, and only for a few hours, to pick up some things. Van Troba said she never stays long. She does what she has to and then heads back up Interstate 55 to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital intensive-care unit. That's where her only child, Kaylie Van Troba, has been silenced by a medically induced coma that doctors say offers her their best shot.

"We just take it day by day," Van Troba said Sunday in a phone interview. "For now, I just need to be here with my daughter."

Van Troba has tried to stay focused on her daughter's recovery -- and not the curious and harrowing events that took place after the crash that put her daughter in the hospital.

At first all she heard was that her daughter's BMW had veered off a rural county road, overturned and slammed into a tree. One of the other occupants, Lauren Timpe, was ejected from the vehicle near Highway 177, while the other two -- Tim Conrad and James Flesher -- sustained minor injuries.

But all Van Troba knew initially, as her daughter was being airlifted to St. Louis in serious condition, was that one of the others had been driving them home after the four had shared drinks at a Cape Girardeau bar.

Later, after three tubes had been placed in Kaylie chest, Van Troba found out that Flesher had been arrested on charges of vehicular assault for being under the influence and behind the wheel. After Kaylie underwent several surgeries to remove her spleen and a large portion of her intestines, her mother heard the patrol was correcting a mistake and that Conrad was the driver.

Then, after her daughter was placed into the coma, Van Troba fought back shock when told of the great lengths Conrad allegedly took to throw suspicion off himself and onto the others. Van Troba on Sunday said that the patrol has now assured her they are "100 percent certain" that they have the right man.

Prosecutors formally filed three felony counts of vehicular assault against Conrad last week, one for each of the three other people in the car who were injured. The charges, which carry a combined punishment of up to 21 years, came nearly a month after Conrad was arrested by the patrol. Assistant prosecutor Jack Koester could not be reached Sunday for comment to explain the delay.

Conrad, who also could not be reached, was taken into custody again Thursday after Judge Gary Kamp issued an arrest warrant. Conrad obtained his release the same day by posting a $15,000 surety bond. His first court appearance has been set for Feb. 4.

Conrad's mother, Lisa Conrad, whose son Buddy was killed outside a Cape Girardeau bar in 2011, declined to be interviewed when reached by phone. The others in the car, Flesher and Timpe, did not return calls. But Timpe did send a message through a social media site that she is trying to put the events of that night behind her.

The charging documents, made public last week, revealed a few things that Tammie Van Troba said even she didn't know -- such as the fact that Conrad had blood-alcohol levels of more than twice the legal limit that night. Almost a week after the crash, the patrol served a warrant at an area hospital for Conrad's blood that was collected the night of the crash. A toxicology screen, the statement said, showed Conrad's blood alcohol content was at 0.18 -- more than twice the legal limit under Missouri law.

The probable-cause statement, prepared by a Missouri State Highway Patrol investigator, Sgt. D. McDaniel, also said the patrol had collected evidence -- including a confession -- from Conrad that he had intentionally tried to throw suspicion off himself and onto his friends in order to avoid criminal charges.

Conrad told police Flesher was driving too fast and lost control, leaving him and Kaylie "stuck" in the back seats, McDaniel said.

But Timpe and Flesher both told the patrol that it was Conrad who was driving. Timpe remembered that she and Kaylie Van Troba were singing the song "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line, the statement says, when they heard Conrad swear from the driver's seat before the car flew off the right side of the road.

Timpe also told police she remembers regaining consciousness in a ditch filled with water to hear Conrad say to someone on the phone that she had been driving. Conrad gave another statement two days after the crash, McDaniel said, and stuck to his story. But when McDaniel interviewed Conrad again, he took photos of his injuries, which were consistent with being in the driver's seat. Flesher's injuries were not.

McDaniel became firmly convinced about the driver's true identity after he listened to the 911 call. During the call, McDaniel heard Conrad talking outside the vehicle just before first-responders arrived on the scene. McDaniel determined Conrad, who was found by the emergency crews in the back seat where he said he was stuck, had crawled in the back to mislead investigators before authorities arrived.

After Conrad was confronted at his parents' home by McDaniels four days after the crash, Conrad confessed, McDaniels said. After he was taken into custody, Conrad told McDaniel that he never wanted to hurt anyone and that it was just a "stupid mistake," McDaniel said.

But it's more than that to Kaylie Van Troba's mother. She said she will try to put everything "going on in Cape Girardeau" out of her mind, while she waits for her daughter to recover.

"There's been a lot of friends and a lot of prayer," she said. "And I've needed a lot of both."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

100 Court St., Jackson, Mo.

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