A Fayette County man’s version of how his wife ended up underneath his car while he was driving it on Route 40 last summer defies the laws of physics, according to a state trooper who testified yesterday during a pretrial hearing in the homicide case.
Ronald Lee Higinbotham’s attorney disputed the trooper’s finding, and yesterday asked a judge to bar his client’s statements at trial because the Brownsville man is borderline mentally retarded.
Higinbotham, 45, is charged with criminal homicide in the June 20 death of his wife, Carmen Higinbotham, 30. Police allege Higinbotham ran her over with his lime-green 2000 Hyundai Tiburon just before midnight in Menallen.
Higinbotham told troopers his wife was “sucked under” the vehicle after she jumped from the passenger side, Trooper John Weaver testified during a hearing yesterday to determine whether evidence, statements and scientific tests will be admissible at trial. But that scenario is impossible, Weaver said, according to both the laws of physics and tests he conducted using Higinbotham’s car and a crash-test dummy.
For Carmen to have been sucked under the car after she purportedly jumped away from it, some “magical” force outside the moving vehicle would have been required to stop her momentum and push her back toward the vehicle, Weaver testified.
In addition, Weaver said, tests he conducted by tossing a 95-pound, anatomically correct dummy from Higinbotham’s car as it traveled at 55 mph on a runway at Connellsville Airport disproved Higinbotham’s story.
“That is not possible, according to the laws of physics,” Weaver said. He said the dummy was not pulled under the vehicle in any of the seven tests he conducted at the airport.
Higinbotham’s attorney, Sam Davis of Uniontown, questioned the validity of the tests, pointing out that Carmen weighed 210 pounds while the dummy was only 95 pounds. In addition, he noted that police have no written documentation to show that the vehicle was going 55 mph when Carmen exited it.
“You have to think, how can a 95-pound dummy replicate a 210-pound woman?” Davis said. “If that leg doesn’t fit, the whole table has to fall.”
Weaver testified that regardless of the dummy’s weight or the speed of the car during the tests, the outcome would have been the same because of the laws of physics. In addition, he said blood spatter that was found on the front of the car and its undercarriage point toward a different scenario than was given by Higinbotham.
“The victim was struck with the front of the vehicle, and completely run over, with her body rolling under the vehicle as it traveled over her,” Weaver testified.
A defense expert testified yesterday that because Higinbotham has an IQ of only 62, he could not have understood the implications of waiving his Miranda rights when he spoke to troopers on June 21 without an attorney present.
Dr. Antoinette Petrazzi-Woods said Higinbotham was in the special education program when he attended classes in the California Area School District. The district tested Higinbotham’s IQ at between 72 and 80 between 1975 and 1980, Petrazzi-Woods said.
She said Higinbotham scored a 62 on an IQ test she administered to him on Sept. 24 in the county jail. The score puts Higinbotham at borderline mental retardation, Petrazzi-Woods said, and as such, he lacks abstract reasoning.
Although Higinbotham signed a rights waiver when he spoke to troopers, Petrazzi-Woods said, more extensive questioning would have been necessary to determine whether he fully understood the rights he was giving up.
Yesterday, Davis argued that Higinbotham’s low IQ, combined with his blood-alcohol level of 0.14 percent in the hours after Carmen’s death, must be weighed when determining whether his statements are admissible.
In addition, Davis questioned whether police should have obtained a search warrant before they had Higinbotham’s vehicle towed from his residence.
Trooper Andre Stenson testified he had the vehicle towed after Higinbotham advised him he believed he had run over Carmen. Stenson said he didn’t want to leave the car unsecured while he transported Higinbotham to Uniontown Hospital for a blood-alcohol test.
The vehicle was not examined until after search warrants were obtained, said Trooper John F. Marshall.
Judge John F. Wagner Jr. delayed ruling on the motion to give Davis and District Attorney Jack Heneks time to file legal briefs in support of their positions.