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Mineola, N.Y.-Evidence gleaned from a car’s “black box”—a computer module that, among other things, records a vehicle’s speed in the last five seconds before air bags deploy in a collision—will be admissible in the trial of two men charged with second-degree murder. The defendants, Kyle Soukup and Blake Slade, were involved in a fatal three-car accident while in a race on a Nassau County, N.Y., highway on a night in June 2002, authorities say. The ruling in People v. Slade, No. 0666-2003, by Alan M. Honorof, an acting justice for the trial-level Nassau County Supreme Court, followed a hearing testing the science behind the evidence. The decision following the hearing is one of the first of its kind in New York state. “It’s a powerful piece of evidence,” said Assistant District Attorney Michael Walsh, the lead prosecutor on the case. Soukup’s lawyer, Jack Litman of Litman, Asche & Gioiella, could not be reached for comment. His associate, Todd Terry, said that the firm was not making public statements about the case. Ronald Bekoff of Garden City, N.Y.-based Hession, Bekoff & Cooper, who represents Slade, could not be reached for comment. A fatal crash According to the prosecutor, Soukup, now 19, and Slade, now 22, were friends racing in separate cars on Route 106 through Old Brookville in northeastern Nassau County, on Long Island. As they approached the Muttontown Road intersection, Soukup, driving a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette at nearly 130 mph, slammed into a 1993 Jeep Cherokee, tearing that vehicle in half. A split second later, Slade, driving a 2002 Mercedes, rammed into the front end of the Jeep, knocking it 300 yards up the road. “You see headlights in the distance,” Walsh said of the Jeep driver’s decision to cross the road. “You can’t image how quick they’ll be on you.” One of the Cherokee’s occupants, Sophia Bretous, was dead at the scene. Her companion, Jean Desir, died later that night at the Nassau University Medical Center. According to Honorof’s ruling, at least three other drivers say they witnessed the contest and the ensuing collision. However, the black box, formally called a sensing diagnostic module, enables the prosecution to establish the Corvette’s speed, engine revolutions, throttle position and use of the brakes for the critical moments before the impact. Police officers removed the sensing module from Soukup’s wrecked car after it was in their possession but before they had a search warrant. They later applied for, and obtained, a warrant based upon witnesses’ affidavits and information they had obtained before entering the vehicle. ‘Frye’ hearing Soukup’s lawyer, Litman, moved to suppress the black box and its data as the products of an unlawful search and seizure. He also challenged the scientific reliability of the data. The trial court held a so-called Frye hearing, derived from the 1923 ruling in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013, by the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia. Frye provides for a “general acceptance test” of expert testimony, Honorof noted. Frye dictates that scientific evidence is admissible only if the underlying methodology or scientific principle is sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in its field.

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