Woman Convicted of Murder for Fatal, Wrong-Way DUI Crash
A woman who got so drunk that she drove the wrong way on Route 309 and killed a young motorist in a head-on collision was convicted this evening of third-degree murder by a Bucks County Common Pleas Court jury.
After two days of testimony and three hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Noelle Theresa Chew of all charges, which also included homicide by vehicle while DUI, homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, DUI / general impairment and DUI / highest rate of alcohol.
Chew, 27, of Richland Township, had three times the legal limit of alcohol in her blood when her BMW sedan crashed into a Kia Sephia driven by Damian Toalombo, 24, of Allentown, who died at the scene. Chew was not seriously injured.
After the jury announced its verdict, Judge Gary B. Gilman ordered Chew’s bail revoked pending sentencing. Gilman ordered a presentence investigation to be conducted before her sentencing is scheduled.
The crash happened shortly after midnight on Jan. 21. Over several hours beforehand, Chew had consumed the equivalent of eight and one-half shots of liquor at a Quakertown restaurant and a Sellersville bar.
After quarreling with her boyfriend, who tried unsuccessfully to restrain her from driving away from the Sellersville bar, Chew somehow wound up driving south for several miles in the northbound lanes of Route 309. Police said she could not recall how or where she entered the divided highway.
Witnesses said at least a dozen cars and two tractor-trailers traveling northbound managed to avoid hitting Chew’s car before it plowed into Toalombo’s vehicle.
“He had no time to react,” Deputy District Attorney Robert D. James told the jury in his closing argument. “He was simply hit head-on and died.”
Chew initially refused to allow a sample of her blood to be drawn, requiring police and prosecutors to first obtain a warrant. Four hours after the crash, her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .204 percent.
A forensic toxicologist testified that, by the most conservative measures, Chew’s BAC would have been at least .24 percent at the time of the crash. The legal limit in Pennsylvania is .08 percent.
Evidence showed that Chew had consumed one Long Island Iced Tea at a T.G.I. Friday’s in Quakertown, followed by two more Long Island Iced Teas and a shot of Fireball whiskey at J.T. Bankers in Sellersville.
Although witnesses testified that Chew did not outwardly appear to be intoxicated at the bar, James said that because each Long Island Iced Tea contained 2.5 shots of liquor, she had consumed the equivalent of 8.5 normal drinks over the evening.
James told the jury that Chew displayed “sustained recklessness” from the time she chose to drive after consuming all of that alcohol.
She drove, he said, despite knowing she was drunk, despite her boyfriend’s attempts to stop her, despite her aunt calling her and telling her to pull over because she sounded drunk, despite having the option to call for a ride home, and despite several drivers on 309 trying to signal her to pull over.
“We have red flag after red flag after red flag after red flag,” James said. Because Chew disregarded them, “Damian Toalombo will never see his 25th birthday.”
Defense attorney Richard Fink argued that while Chew “did something really horrible” and “committed some serious crimes,” her actions did not amount to murder.
“The justice in this case is to know that she didn’t intend to kill anyone,” Fink said. “She did not have the mind of a murderer.”
James countered that it didn’t matter whether Chew intended to kill anyone. “It’s an unintentional killing, done recklessly with malice,” he told the jury.
“This case is about choices,” James argued. “Her deck was full of choices. All the choices were hers. And Damian’s deck was empty.”
The case was investigated by police from Hilltown Township and the Bucks County Homicide by Vehicle Task Force.
Contact: Robert D. James, 215.348.6332, firstname.lastname@example.org
Approved for release by Gregg D. Shore, First Assistant District Attorney.