The trial of a League City woman accused in an April 2017 car crash that killed an 8-year-old girl opened Tuesday with a defense attorney arguing his client hadn’t been drunk and implying police misconduct influenced a blood test showing she was.
“No one wants a child to be harmed,” said Nicholas Poehl, the attorney representing the accused. “But you have to decide a case based on the facts. And the evidence is going to show she was not intoxicated and wasn’t driving recklessly.”
Poehl’s assertions were contrary to the prosecution’s argument.
Erika Diebel, 42, is charged with intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle and manslaughter in connection with the death of Kelsey Nalepa.
Diebel had been drinking all day while celebrating a friend’s birthday at Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and was on her way to pick her son up from karate practice when the accident happened, Assistant District Attorney Kacey Launius said.
Several of Diebel’s friends said she had been highly intoxicated before the accident, Launius said.
The crash occurred as Diebel was driving a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee east in the 2600 block of West Main Street, police said.
Eastbound traffic was stopped in that block, and a 2001 Ford Expedition was stopped directly in front of Diebel’s vehicle, police said. Diebel drove her Jeep into the back of the Expedition, seriously injuring Nalepa, police said.
Nalepa was flown to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston for treatment. She was pronounced dead April 8, 2017.
Diebel consented to a blood-alcohol test and was taken to a University of Texas Medical Branch clinic in League City, where she gave the sample, according to an arrest affidavit.
The alcohol content report from the Texas Department of Public Safety crime laboratory showed Diebel had a blood alcohol content of 0.249 grams per 100 milliliters of blood, according to the arrest affidavit. The legal limit is 0.08.
But Poehl in his opening statement struck back against the claims that she was intoxicated during the crash.
“A lot of the elements are not being contested,” Poehl said. “But you have to decide if she was intoxicated and if it caused Kelsey’s death.”
None of the officers at the scene that night thought Diebel was intoxicated and police department officials put out a statement the night of the wreck that they didn’t suspect alcohol was a factor, Poehl said.
Diebel was interviewed at the scene that night, but wasn’t charged with any violations at the scene, officials said.
The lead detective on the case also had a personal relationship with the Nalepa family that made it inappropriate for him to handle the investigation, Poehl said.
Diebel’s blood sample took six days to come back instead of the usual months and the detective said he was sure it would come back above the legal limit, Poehl said.
“You’ll have to decide what that means,” he said.