A witness told authorities he saw Lanie Tyrone Richardson snort cocaine in the moments leading up to the death of 26-year-old Allison Meadows, who was apparently “car surfing” on the hood of a Toyota 4Runner Richardson was driving early in the morning on June 6.
Investigators speculate he was travelling 70 to 92 miles per hour at the time his vehicle hit a bump on East Valley Road — at a spot well-known for the dangerous activity of riding outside of a moving vehicle — sending Meadows and her friend flying into the air. Officers believe that when Meadows hit the ground her body skidded more than 230 feet before coming to a stop in some brush along the side of the road. She died at the scene from severe head injuries.
These grim details were presented in court during a three-day preliminary hearing, a step in the legal process during which the judge must determine whether there is enough evidence for a defendant to go to trial on the charges filed by the District Attorney’s Office. In Richardson’s case, those charges include second degree murder, which entails acting with a wanton disregard for human life, with that disregard resulting in the victim’s death. He also faces charges related to the injuries sustained by Lindsay Keebler, who was also allegedly car surfing that morning.
Deputy public defender Rafael Amezaga said that his client was not the only cause of the tragedy and that others, including the two victims as well as passenger Connor Clowers, shared responsibility. “It is unfortunate that these women got on top of this vehicle and engaged in this reckless behavior,” he explained to the court. Everyone involved, he said, realizes how stupid, reckless, and careless it was. “He’s acting with a group, they’re all in this together,” Amezaga said of Richardson.
Prosecutor Von Nguyen, however, took umbrage with Amezaga’s suggestions. “Had they climbed out on the hood and the defendant … taken the keys out and stopped the car and said ‘get off the hood,’ would Allison Meadows be dead right now?” she asked. “The answer is no. He’s the one who had his foot on the gas; he’s the one who drove.” Judge Jean Dandona said Tuesday that the victims’ actions are not relevant to the charges Richardson faces.
Nguyen noted that Richardson has been arrested three times for DUI, and once for possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. Richardson, in entering his pleas in the three DUI cases, signed a form stating that he understood that, “If I continue to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both, I can be charged with murder.” “He’s been warned three times,” Nguyen said.
Initial reports indicated that Clowers (who had not been named publicly until the preliminary hearing) and Richardson were Good Samaritans who came across the two women — apparent victims of a hit-and-run — on Highway 192 in Montecito, near the Romero Canyon Creek bridge. But as authorities investigated in the days following the tragedy, the group’s story began to unravel. When detectives visited Clowers at his home to conduct a follow-up interview, Clowers had hardly answered the door before he began to confess that their earlier story had been a lie, said CHP Sergeant Andrew Chapman.
Clowers told Chapman he and Richardson had had a few beers at a friend’s house before they went to Whiskey Richards, a downtown bar where they met the two women. Surveillance video, according to officers, confirmed the group left the bar together at closing time. From there, Clowers allegedly told officers, they went to a party on Arrellaga Street. Everyone was taking shots of booze, the officer told the court, continuing that Clowers said he, Meadows, and Keebler each snorted cocaine. He told the officer he thought Richardson did as well. The group left at 4 a.m., and that’s when someone came up with the idea to go to the “bump,” a famed spot on Highway 192 where the road rises and dips, leading to a brief rollercoaster-ride feeling for passengers in vehicles traveling over it.
Clowers told police he didn’t want to participate in the activity and got out of the vehicle. The two women climbed through the truck’s sunroof and onto the hood, where they sat with their rears near the windshield wipers and their backs against the windshield. They either held on to the top of the sunroof, according to Clowers, or the edge of the windshield. Richardson drove them three times over the bump, according to testimony, at speeds Clowers estimated to be about 40 miles per hour. He got back in the car, he told authorities, believing they were done. But they decided to go one more time, and Clowers told an investigator he saw the speedometer reach 60 miles per hour.
Both women were lifted off the hood when the SUV hit the bump, hit the SUV, then went flying to each side. Scuff marks believed to have come from Meadows’s boots were found more than 231 feet from where her body came to rest.
Traffic investigator Craig Rude, testified that, according to tests he and fellow investigators conducted, he believes the SUV was traveling at a minimum 70 to 92 miles per hour. A detective coroner said Meadows suffered several fractures to her skull, some that could be seen, others that could be felt. She also had injuries on both arms, and major road rash covered her back. The group headed to the hospital, Clowers told authorities, and on the way came up with a story to tell when they got there.
Amezaga argued near the conclusion of the hearing that there was a lack of evidence that Richardson was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident. Indeed, no officer gave Richardson a breath or blood test, according to testimony. Santa Barbara police officer Gary Siegel told the court he did smell the odor of alcohol on Richardson’s breath when he talked to him at the hospital but that the investigation was handed over to the CHP.
But Nguyen explained that none of the responding officers were concerned with Richardson during the initial investigation because he and the others had concocted a false story that made him and Clowers look like Good Samaritans who had come across victims of a hit-and-run. “The reason we don’t have that is because of the defendant,” she told the court. “He led officers on a wild goose chase.” So instead of focusing on Richardson, investigators were looking elsewhere, she said.
Various testimony from officers, who relayed the statements of many witnesses in the case, showed that in the hours leading up to the tragic event, Richardson had been consuming alcohol, and may have snorted cocaine earlier at a house party as well. The prosecution also presented witness testimony that Richardson had pulled over just prior to the incident to snort a line of cocaine.
Another witness, the host of the early-morning party, also told law enforcement that, while Richardson was initially “loud” at the party, he was “fine, sober, together, and respectful,” according to Officer George Orozco. Testimony also revealed the two women had been car surfing on Arrellaga Street earlier in the night, with Richardson at the wheel. A neighbor who was woken by the screeching of tires testified that she saw one of the women fall off the hood of the vehicle then, as well.
In addition to the second degree murder charge, Richardson also faces a charge of driving on a suspended license, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury. Dandona found there was enough evidence to hold Richardson to answer to the charges.
The case will now head toward trial. Richardson, who remains in Santa Barbara County Jail on $1 million bail, faces 15 years to life if convicted on the murder charge. He will be back in court on September 20.