DELHI _ A statement taken by a Delaware County deputy from a 22-year-old Walton woman while she was in a hospital bed after a fatal car crash is admissible to be used at trial, Delaware County Judge Carl Becker ruled Monday.

Katherine M. Covell is facing a second-degree vehicular manslaughter charge stemming from an accident on Nov. 29 that killed her front-seat passenger, Frank Ruiz, 28, of Walton.

Covell appeared for a Huntley hearing to determine if she was properly given Miranda warnings before she gave police a statement. A Huntley hearing is a separate proceeding conducted for the purpose of determining the admissibility of extrajudicial statements made by the defendant.

Covell was also charged with driving while intoxicated and driving with a blood-alcohol content above .08 percent when she was arraigned in Delaware County Court on March 25.

Deputy Todd Van Keuvren testified Monday that he was at the Delaware County Sheriff's Office in Delhi when he received a call at 2:55 a.m. about an accident on state Route 10 in the town of Walton.

"I arrived at about 3:15 a.m., and there was a fire truck and ambulance on the scene," Van Keuvren said. "There were two people lying in the road _ one male and one female."

Van Keuvren said he was told that two people in a truck had seen the accident. They said the car Covell was driving had passed them and then they saw the car go off the road.

"They said they stopped, and one person was out of the car and the female was seat-belted into the driver's side of the vehicle," Van Keuvren said.

Van Keuvren said he was still investigating the actual accident when Covell was taken to the hospital. He said he was told by Lt. Timothy Buckley to go the hospital to do interviews.

"Miss Covell was in a room off the main lobby," Van Keuvren said. "I went in and spoke to Miss Covell and identified myself.

"She said she had been driving. She said she was taking a friend home or going to a boyfriend's house. She was coming from The Loft, a restaurant and bar in Walton, and she said she drank three White Russians."

Van Keuvren said he then advised Covell she was under arrest for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. He said he read her the Miranda rights.

"Physically, she had a neck brace on, and she was being attended by hospital staff," he added. "She had been crying."

Van Keuvren said he could not smell alcohol, and Covell showed no signs of intoxication. He added that Undersheriff Douglas Vredenburgh arrived, and a hospital technician named O'Brien drew blood to test her blood-alcohol content.

Covell was represented by Larisa Obolensky of Delhi.

Becker ruled that special prosecutor Michael Breen had successfully sustained the people's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

"The questioning at the time and under the circumstances was appropriate to what had happened and was not intended to illicit incriminatory information," Becker said. "The statements are admissible on those grounds."

Alcohol and speed were factors in the crash that killed Ruiz. He was declared dead at the scene, deputies said at the time.

Breen, a Middleburgh attorney, was appointed as special prosecutor after Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup said he knew too many of the people involved in the case, including Covell. She took part in a New Visions law and government class that shadowed court officials.

Breen said the felony charge carries a maximum sentence of 2 1/3-to-7 years in jail.

Becker said the trial is scheduled during the January trial term.

Deputies previously said the following happened: Covell apparently lost control of the vehicle, which struck the guardrail, spun around and hit several large trees before coming to rest over the guardrail against a tree on the east shoulder of the road above the river. The engine compartment caught fire.

Another passenger, Eduardo Torres, 21, of Walton, who sat in the back seat, was taken to Delaware Valley Hospital in Walton, where he was treated for unspecified injuries and released, deputies said.

Covell was giving Ruiz and Torres a ride to their home, which was not far from where the accident happened.

Covell is free on her own recognizance awaiting trial.

___

Patricia Breakey can be reached at 746-2894 or at stardelhi@stny.rr.com.

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