Driver Claims He Pulled Out Of Russell’s Path Moments Before Crash

KELSO, WA. — Robert “RJ” Hart took the stand Thursday morning and told the court that he had to pull off to the side of the road to get out of his way moments before Fred Russell’s SUV hit a car carrying seven WSU students.

Hart testified at Russell’s vehicular homicide trial that he had been on his way to work at the Moscow Inn on the night of June 4, 2001 when he encountered Russell.

He thought Russell was speeding at approximately 90 miles an hour down the Moscow-Pullman Highway when he pulled over to get out of Russell’s way after Russell flashed his high beams at him. Russell then swerved onto the shoulder of the oncoming traffic and into offcoming traffic and then collided with a car.

On cross-examination defense attorneys tried to impeach Hart’s testimony about what happened, pointing out inconsistencies with statements he’s made in the past and asking him why he refused to allow investigators tape record his comments during an interview after the crash.

They also called into question the point at which he saw Russell’s SUV before the crash, why he didn’t call 911 from the crash scene and why he waited until he got to work at the Moscow Inn before calling dispatchers to let authorities know he had witnessed the crash.

Defense attorney Francisco Duarte said that the two hours between the collision and Hart calling authorities may have been necessary for him to come up with a story about the collision, a claim that Hart denied.

In all Hart spent two-and-a-half hours under cross-examination by Duarte. After it was all over one of the prosecuting attorneys asked how he felt after the defense’s line of questioning.

Hart replied that he felt like he was the one on trial.