Hart Happy Jury Didn’t Buy Russell’s Tale That He Caused Fatal Crash

Three days after his vehicular homicide conviction, Fred Russell is back in the Whitman County Jail, awaiting his sentencing next month. A jury found Russell guilty of vehicular homicide and assault on Tuesday, not buying Russell’s claim that someone else, R.J. Hart, was responsible.

Six years ago, Ryan Sorenson, Brandon Clements and Stacy Morrow were killed on the Moscow-Pullman Highway. Today, it looks nothing like it did the night of the crash becasue of a major construction project has made it wider and safer.

R.J. Hart says he pulled off the side of the road to get out of Fred Russell’s way. He saw the crash, and Russell’s attorneys saws someone they could point the finger at.

“I braced myself for it,” Hart says. “I expected it to happen.”

Hart was not surprised when Russell’s attorneys blamed him for causing the 2001 crash that killed three people.

“I knew some sort of assault was coming,” he said.

Russell’s attorney, Francisco Duarte, hammered Hart when he took the stand at Russell’s trial and testified he pulled over when he saw Russell coming in his rear view mirror.

“He was going very very fast,” Hart said at the trial, referring to Russell.

Hart witnessed the crash momemts after Russell passed him. He said he made sure someone had called 911, and then he left for work, even before police arrived on scene. He called dispatch a short time later to report he had witnessed the wreck.

But Russell’s defense team told the jury that Hart didn’t get his car off the road and Russell had swerved into oncoming traffic to avoid him. Duarte said Hart fled the scene to avoid police and waited to call authorities because he needed time to fabricate a story about what happened.

Hart denied the accusations, saying he left because the scene was secure and there was nothing he could do. He said he called police in a matter of minutes, not hours.

“It did feel like they were trying to frame me,” he says.

Hart said he felt some relief when the jury found Russell guilty

“It felt a little like I was vindicated, even though I knew I had done nothing wrong,” he says.

He felt a little like he was the one on trial, accused of a crime he did not committ.

“I know I didn’t,” says Hart. “When something like that is implied, I know the truth. So it hasn’t had an effect on me.”