Autopsy Complete

Alcohol possible factor in fatal collision


Alcohol may have played a role in the Sept. 19 head-on collision on Highway 87 that killed two Rim Country residents.

Marni Stephenson, 61, of Star Valley, was driving northbound on the Beeline Highway when her white Chevrolet pickup collided head-on with a silver Chevrolet pickup driven by Thomas Casanova, 72, of Tonto Basin. Casanova was heading southbound, driving on the wrong side of the highway.

He turned onto the highway from Round Valley Road.

The accident report said Casanova failed to see the "Do Not Enter" signs and the "Wrong Way" signs on the highway.

Department of Public Safety Officer John Whetten said both drivers died at the scene, which was about 5 miles south of the Payson city limits.

The autopsy report revealed that Casanova had a blood-alcohol content of .09 at the time of the accident, above the legal limit of .08.

Stephenson was returning to Star Valley after visiting her husband, Larry Stephenson, who was recovering from a stroke in a rehabilitation facility in the Valley.

Whetten said several drivers almost collided with Casanova's vehicle before he struck Stephenson's truck. Casanova drove on the wrong side of the roadway for more than two miles. Other drivers tried to get his attention to let him know he was driving into oncoming traffic.

Three witnesses, who saw the collision, gave written statements to police about Casanova driving the wrong direction.

Larry Stephenson on Monday said his family is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit because Casanova was legally drunk at the time of the accident.

"It's ironic that he was drunk because (Marni) was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and was sober and had been sober for years," Stephenson said.

Whetten said one of the first things officers do when arriving at an accident or collision is to determine if the driver may have been impaired in some way.

"Probably 30 percent of our fatalities have some sort of impairment," Whetten said.

He said the result in most cases are criminal charges being filed, though in this instance, the driver who was legally impaired also died in the collision.

The autopsy also showed that Casanova had a heart ailment.

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