Suspected suicidal driver is charged with murder after fatal wreck
Deputy noticed suspicious vehicle just before Saturday crash
by Chris Harris Commonwealth Journal
One man is dead and another charged with murder following a weekend collision on west Ky. 80.
Levi Stephens, 33, of Somerset died as a result of the Saturday night crash, which occurred near the intersection with the Ky. 914 southwestern bypass, according to Somerset Police Department Lt. Shannon Smith.
The driver of the other vehicle, Justin Litton, 36, of Somerset, was charged on Monday with murder in connection with the collision. Smith said that investigators have learned that Litton intentionally drove his car into the path of Stephens’ vehicle in a suspected suicide attempt.
At 9:58 p.m., a Pulaski County Sheriff’s deputy was on patrol and noticed a black 1998 Nissan car parked in the lot of a closed business on Ky. 80, without its headlamps on.
“His normal crime detection work led him to investigate further,” said Smith of the deputy. “He recognized that (situation) as being suspicious, and shined his spotlight on it and recognized someone was inside.”
Before further investigation could be made, the vehicle — driven by Litton — left the parking lot (Smith said he believed the vehicle’s lights were on at this point) and headed eastbound, according to SPD.
The deputy was attempting to make a traffic stop to investigate the suspicious incident when the accident happened. Litton’s vehicle crossed the centerline just west of the intersection with WTLO Road, only a short distance east from where it had been parked, and struck a westbound white 2005 Suzuki driven by Stephens head-on.
The impact trapped both drivers in their vehicles, according to SPD, and sent Stephens' vehicle off the road, where it came to rest on the north side of the highway.
Litton was airlifted from the scene via Air Methods and taken to the University of Kentucky Medical Center. As of Monday afternoon, he was listed as being in “fair” condition there, according to a hospital spokesperson.
Stephens was transported by ambulance to the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead by the Pulaski County Coroner's Office.
Coroner Chuck Godbey said that the cause of death appeared to be blunt force trauma to the head and chest areas. However, the body was sent to the State Medical Examiner’s office in Frankfort for a more complete autopsy, with results still pending.
At 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Litton was taken into custody by UK police on the murder charge.
“The collision was an intentional act,” said Smith. “The charge of murder is being filed not by virtue of whether or not intoxication was a suspicion. (Litton) intentionally drove his car into the path of (Stephens). This is not a case where he accidentally drove off the road.”
Smith said that a camera mounted on the deputy’s vehicle captured the entire incident on video, and that the images showed the accident taken place right in front of the deputy, about 10 to 12 seconds after the pursuit began.
Smith also said that it was clear Stephens tried to move out of Litton’s way, but that Litton steered his vehicle to create the collision despite Stephens’ efforts.
Litton was the subject of a report earlier Saturday, as a family member had informed authorities that he was suicidal. Officers went to Litton’s home and were given a vehicle description, and told that it was Litton’s alleged intention to drive in front of a semi-truck so as to kill himself, according to Smith.
Investigators are still trying to ascertain all factors that may have contributed to the accident, including toxicology.
“There doesn’t appear to be anything obvious at this point,” said Smith when asked if anything was found at the scene that might point police in a certain direction, such as drugs. “One of the things we do in these types of accidents is have the blood analyzed, not only for possible alcohol involvement but drug involvement.”
Smith noted that a detective was sent to the UK hospital at about 1 a.m. after the wreck to serve a warrant to collect Litton’s blood for testing. However, Smith said it will be a while until any conclusive results are known, likely about two weeks.
Pulaski District Court Judge Scott Lawless issued a $250,000 bond for Litton.
Traffic on west Ky. 80 was blocked for about three hours as the SPD Accident Reconstruction Unit conducted its on-scene investigation.