Police: Driver Drunk, Trying to Get Car Airborne in Knowles’ Crash
According to documents filed at Superior Court, the crash that killed Erica Knowles allegedly came when the driver was trying to go airborne on Torrey Road.
Based on documents filed by South Kingstown police at Washington County Superior Court, Dean Philbrick was drunk and attempting to go airborne on Torrey Road before losing control of his vehicle and crashing into a telephone pole the morning of Feb. 15.
The crash killed Erica Knowles, a 23-year-old student at the University of Rhode Island, a South Kingstown resident and a co-worker of Philbrick, 47, at Turtle Soup.
South Kingstown patrolman Andrew Hopewood was the first to arrive at the scene of the accident, at 12:11 a.m.
He noted that Philbrick and Knowles were both unconscious and in the 2006 Ford Taurus, in the driver’s seat and back seat, respectively.
Knowles had a pulse, but it was weak, and she was bleeding heavily from the head. He wrote that Philbrick was not moved until paramedics arrived, because of worries about a serious back or neck injury.
According to police, one person involved in the crash – Rebecca Scott, 29, of Narragansett – was conscious and relatively unharmed outside the car, along with the 911 caller, a 26-year-old Wakefield woman.
Police said a family member of Philbrick was at the scene. The family member said he had heard the crash and came to investigate, and coincidentally, it involved Philbrick. Torrey Road is about half a mile from Philbrick’s listed address of 50 Harcourt Avenue.
Knowles died en route to treatment. Police noted that because of the cloud cover the night of the crash, she could not be transported by helicopter to a hospital.
South Kingstown police conducted interviews with more than a dozen people to put together a timeline of the actions of Philbrick, Knowles and Scott that night.
- According to police, Scott told them that she and Knowles were with Philbrick at Turtle Soup, and then went to Kabuki later that night for drinks, sometime around 10 p.m. She said she thought Philbrick only had one beer at Turtle Soup, but she wasn’t sure about this.
Scott allegedly told police that she has known Philbrick for about 10 years, and they are best friends. She said that as he was going over the bump, the accident “happened fast” and she wasn’t sure exactly what happened.
Scott described Knowles as a “thrillseeker,” and said that she and Philbrick had talked about the bump in the past. Scott said she had frequently told a story about how Philbrick had taken her over the bump and made her smack her head in the process.
- The bartender at Turtle Soup, a 24-year-old man, told police that he had served Philbrick at least four Heinekens and maybe as many as seven or eight over the course of the evening.
However, he said there was no record of this, because managers didn’t pay for drinks at the restaurant. He also said that there is no security footage. He told police that when he left, Philbrick did not seem to be impaired.
- The first responder was a 26-year-old woman who lived on Middlebridge Road. She told police that when she arrived, Scott was outside the car and screaming that it was all her fault. She confirmed that Philbrick’s family arrived while she was there, but didn’t touch the scene.
- A 35-year-old employee of Turtle Soup told police that she was working as a server from about 5 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. She said that Philbrick was drinking Heineken, but she wasn’t sure how much, and added that she hadn’t served him any.
- A 27-year-old employee of Turtle Soup told police that she was working from about 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. She said Knowles was off her shift at about 9:45 p.m.
The woman told police that Philbrick was the acting manager, but wasn’t specifically scheduled for the night. She said he didn’t seem drunk when he left the restaurant.
- A 22-year-old employee of Turtle Soup told police that she had seen Philbrick there from about 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. She said that he drank a Heineken.
- A 22-year-old employee of Turtle Soup told police that she worked from about 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. She said she saw Philbrick with a beer, but she didn’t serve him that night, and didn’t know how much he drank.
- A 21-year-old employee of Turtle Soup told police that he saw Philbrick drinking, but because it was a busy night, he wasn’t sure of the time or amount of drinking.
- A 38-year-old employee of Turtle Soup told police that Philbrick, in the past, had told him about catching air off the bump on Torrey Road.
However, he told police that he was not at the restaurant the night in question. He said that he was away from Rhode Island at the time, which made Philbrick the acting manager.
- A 23-year-old woman describing herself as the best friend of Knowles told police that she had spoken with Scott several days after the accident.
The woman told police that Scott told her that Philbrick was trying to get the car airborne on the bump on Torrey Road, and that he lost control and crashed the car. The woman also told police that she was at Turtle Soup the night of the accident, and saw Philbrick drink four Heinekens.
- Two bartenders at Kabuki did not provide police with statements. One said that he had hired a lawyer to protect himself from any civil case liability. The owner of Kabuki told police that his bartenders told him that each member of the group had had a single drink.
- Philbrick did not provide police with a statement.
Police said that based on several of the interviews, they obtained a search warrant for Philbrick’s blood. Staff at South County Hospital had taken several vials to treat him, and this blood was turned over to police for testing. Philbrick could not give consent because he was in and out of consciousness, police said.
According to police, testing on the blood suggested that Philbrick’s blood alcohol level at the time of his treatment at South County Hospital was between .148 and .160.
Police said they also tried to determine how fast the car was going as it went over the bump on Torrey Road. According to police, officers monitoring traffic on the road noted that they clocked cars going as fast as 48 miles per hour, and none left the ground. As a result, they estimated the speed at more than 50 miles per hour.
A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Philbrick on July 16. He was arraigned in Superior Court on June 4, and released on surety bail. To date, the only other court filing was about 20 discovery motions by Philbrick’s attorney.
The motions asked the prosecution for information ranging from the mental health history of witnesses to any other evidence uncovered since the accident. In point-by-point responses, the prosecution denied withholding any evidence. (Motions of this sort are customary in any felony case.)
Philbrick does have a past arrest history, and has pleaded to two prior offenses.
- In April 2008, Philbrick pleaded no contest to a South Kingstown police charge of driving with a suspended license. He was ordered to pay a fine.
However, at the time of his arrest in January 2008, Philbrick was also charged with felony drug possession. According to online court records, this charge was dismissed in December 2008. Philbrick completed a diversion program after several attempts between March and December.
- In November 2003, Philbrick pleaded no contest to a Narragansett police charge of driving with a suspended license. He was ordered to pay a fine.
The South County Independent’s Iain Wilson wrote a piece about her memorial service. Video by WPRI from her memorial service is available here. The University of Rhode Island has also posted her obit.
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