Judge allows murder charge to stand against woman accused of ‘huffing’ before fatal crash

lfalce@centredaily.comMay 29, 2014 

Danielle Packer is still charged with murder.

The 22-year-old Bellefonte woman was in court Thursday, seeking to have the most serious count dismissed from her pending trial.

Packer is charged with 18 crimes in connection with a 2012 crash on state Route 150. The collision killed Matthew Snyder, who was on his way to work at Rockview state prison.

Those charges include felony counts of murder in the third degree, aggravated assault, homicide while DUI, aggravated assault while DUI and homicide by vehicle; misdemeanor counts of DUI, involuntary manslaughter, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and illegal use of solvents; and six summary traffic offenses.

Defense attorney Deborah Lux argued that District Judge Leslie Dutchcot should not have bound over the most serious count of murder. She claimed the prosecution had not met the basic test of that charge, the presence of malice.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller was adamant that malice is everywhere in the case.

“It’s the textbook example, frankly,” she told Centre County Judge Bradley P. Lunsford.

Parks Miller pointed to the events of the evening, when Packer allegedly went shopping at Wal-Mart on Benner Pike, purchased two cans of computer dusting spray, then “huffed” it with her boyfriend, inhaling the chemicals for a druglike high.

Minutes later, she drove away, but when stopped at a red light at the corner of Shiloh Road and Benner Pike, she took another hit of the spray while actively operating the running vehicle, according to police reports.

“Huffing is more debilitating than alcohol,” Parks Miller said, arguing that a user is highly impaired immediately after using. “It is essentially the same as saying ‘I am going to drive blindfolded.’ ”

Snyder was killed shortly after the second huffing instance, when Packer crossed the center line on a straight stretch of road with no other impediments, striking Snyder’s vehicle, according to police reports.

Parks Miller argued that Packer’s behavior after the collision also showed an “abject failure” of responsibility, saying that while the man was dying on the side of the road, the defendant never tried to help him. Instead, she called her mother to come pick up electronics from her car.

“Malice is clear,” Parks Miller said.

Lunsford agreed, keeping the murder charge as part of the case.

The parties also discussed pre-trial issues at the hearing. Parks Miller and Lux agreed the trial would likely be just one day long. However, Lux said she did not think the defense would be prepared to go to court in the current term of court. Lunsford said that arguments on when the trial would occur would be held at a later date.

Lori Falce can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @LoriFalce.

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