It’s also worth remembering: This was a serious drunk-driving crash that could have killed or badly injured someone, and somehow didn’t. The photos show the damage to the cab. Both vehicles collided once at high speed and then both hit concrete jersey walls. That Salem Trad seems to be enjoying the notoriety of being convicted of drunk driving and being hit with a $22,000 civil verdict Tuesday seems incongruous.
Abdu Omar, 28, is a cabdriver who lives in Herndon but drives a minivan cab in Prince George’s County. He immigrated here from Eritrea in 2001, he testified Monday, his English is not great and he has no medical insurance. Early on the morning of May 5, 2010, he was headed home on the Beltway’s inner loop, passing the Telegraph Road exit going west.
Salem T. Trad, 22, lives in Woodbridge and on the afternoon of May 4, 2010, he was hanging out at a friend’s house in Woodbridge, drinking beer, according to the friend’s testimony. We’ll call the friend Ms. X. I don’t think she deserves to be Lewinsky-ized for the legal events that followed.
In any event, our three party hounds are off to Fuego to celebrate Trad’s 21st birthday, which would officially arrive at midnight. Fuego is a BYOB club just off Kenilworth Avenue in Hyattsville. The three hounds estimated they were there until around 1 a.m., when al-Damari declared he had to go home because he had a curfew at his mother’s apartment in the Groveton section of Fairfax County, just off Route 1.
The hounds acknowledge they staggered out of Fuego, drunk. Their versions of what happened next are all different:
Trad: Said al-Damari was the only one who knew his way around Prince George’s or how to get to Groveton, so he drove. Trad said they loaded Ms. X into the rear driver’s side seat, and that he got in the back on the passenger side. He said he was still back there when the car crashed at 1:30 a.m.
Ms. X: Said she was drunk, “everything was starting to get fuzzy. I hadn’t eaten all day.” Said, “I do remember Salem being in the back seat of the car with me.” She did not remember the crash or who was driving when the crash occurred.
Al-Damari: Said Trad wanted to drive, seemed fine, took the keys and drove. He said Ms. X was helped into the front passenger seat and then passed out. He said he was driven to Groveton in the back seat, that he gave Trad directions on how to get back to the Beltway, and went inside. His mother was supposed to corroborate this, but she couldn’t make it to trial Monday because of work. That’s how trials go, sometimes.
So it would seem that al-Damari is out of the car at this point, and Trad and Ms. X are back on the Beltway headed toward Interstate 95 south. Then, their Nissan plows into the back of Omar’s cab, apparently at 85 mph, according to state police, sending the cab veering hard into the right jersey wall, while the Nissan veers hard into the left jersey wall.
Eric Caudill of Dale City was also driving on the inner loop of the Beltway, coming back from a Phillies game in Philadelphia. Omar’s minivan cab was ahead of him to his left, Caudill testified. Then, the Nissan zoomed past at high speed and slammed into the cab, sending both vehicles to opposite sides of the highway. Caudill pulled over behind the van and checked on Omar, and did not see anyone get out of the Nissan across the way.
Farrar said he went around to the driver’s side, where the door was slightly ajar. He said Trad was sitting in the driver’s seat with the airbag deflated in his lap, and his seat belt across his chest but not buckled. Farrar helped Trad out of the car, and saw Ms. X lying feet first between the two front seats, her head in the back.
Farrar said Trad repeatedly said on the side of the Beltway, “This can’t happen. I wrecked my girlfriend’s car. This is not good.” Trad also claimed he had fallen asleep at the wheel, Farrar said.
Paramedics began arriving. Trad had glass and cuts in his head. Ms. X was taken to an ambulance. Then, Virginia State Trooper Corey Snyder arrived.
Snyder testified that he asked Trad who was driving. He said Trad pointed to the ambulance and said, “She was,” meaning Ms. X. The trooper visited with Ms. X, but she said she didn’t remember anything.
The trooper said he returned to Trad and again asked who was driving. “He changed his story and said he didn’t recall,” Snyder said. Snyder gave Trad a field sobriety test, including standing on one leg and walking a straight line heel-to-toe, and Trad failed them all.
“Sir, I’m drunk,” Snyder said Trad told him. “I’m drunk, do I really have to take these steps?”
As Snyder was beginning the arrest process for Trad, he said Trad told him this: “I’m not sure I should tell you, I don’t want you think I’m a liar,” Snyder quoted Trad, “but I suddenly remember something. I couldn’t have been the driver because I remember being in the back seat getting [oral sex] from her.”
Snyder said neither Trad nor anyone else mentioned a third person in the car, nor was a third person found at the scene. Al-Damari said he didn’t hear about the crash until days later.
Snyder took Trad to the Fairfax County jail and gave him a breathalyzer exam at 3:28 a.m. It came back with “no sample,” so they waited and tried again at 3:56 a.m., court records show. Even then, about 2 1/2 hours after the crash, Trad had a 0.10 blood-alcohol content, above the 0.08 that is Virginia’s legal definition of drunk. He was charged with DWI.
At Trad’s trial in September, he pleaded not guilty and claimed he wasn’t the driver, according to Douglas Stevens, Omar’s lawyer. Farrar and Trooper Snyder testified, and the judge found Trad guilty. He received the standard first-time DWI sentence: A one-year license suspension, $432 in fines and costs, and a 30-day suspended jail sentence.
Meanwhile, Stevens filed suit against Trad, al-Damari and Ms. X in June 2010, figuring that one of them had to be the driver. After pre-trial depositions were taken, Ms. X was dismissed from the case, but al-Damari and Trad remained in. Al-Damari said the first he learned that he might be the driver was when he received Stevens’ lawsuit.
Stevens initially sought $75,000 in damages, and also wanted punitive damages against the driver, after Trad continued to claim that he was otherwise engaged “at the time of the collision.” The lawyer said the Nissan’s speedometer was locked at 85 mph, and that “having sex at 85 miles per hour while drunk on a freeway is willful and wanton negligence.” Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Michael F. Devine did not agree, and threw out the punitive damages in a pretrial hearing.
The case was heard by a seven-person jury, including one juror with a prior drunk driving conviction. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Brett A. Kassabian was presiding, and said he was baffled by the media interest.
Trad testified that he was asleep when the crash occurred. “Who was driving the car?” Stevens asked him. “Yani,” he said, meaning al-Damari.
Trad repeated his claim that he was in the back seat receiving oral sex from Ms. X, but that he had fallen asleep by the time of the collision. ”I never had sex with her,” he clarified.
“Do you consider having fellatio with her sex?” Stevens asked.
“In some form,” Trad answered.
Stevens asked how the sex was relevant, if Trad was asleep. “I was just trying to state I was in the back seat with [Ms. X] and not driving in the front,” Trad said.
Al-Damari sat on a courtroom bench behind his lawyer, Jennifer Parrish, and periodically dozed off. He didn’t look at or speak to Trad, who sat six feet away on the same bench. He later said of Trad, “we’re far from friends.”
Al-Damari testified he wasn’t in the car at the time of the crash. Ms. X testified she never had any sexual contact with Trad, “that I’m aware of.”
At the lunch break, Trad picked up his phone and tweeted, “I’m so angry that it’s causing me a really bad headache.”
Trad’s lawyer, Frank Prior, pointed out in closing arguments that there were two spider-web-type impacts in the windshield, a big one on the passenger side and a lesser one in the middle, but none on the driver’s side. But Trad had glass and cuts on his head. Prior argued that Trad had flown up from the back seat and caused the middle impact, and that Ms. X had gone over the collapsed front passenger seat from the back and made that impact.
Parrish said it was more likely that Trad was behind the wheel, was protected by the airbag when the Nissan first hit the cab, and then slid past the deflating air bag and into the middle of the windshield when the car hit the jersey wall. She said Ms. X was in the front passenger seat, as al-Damari had claimed. It seemed the most likely scenario, regardless of whether anyone was having sex with anyone.
After closing arguments on Tuesday, Trad bolted from the courtroom, and immediately began tweeting again. “Damn I’m shocked how big this got,” he wrote, followed by, “It would be cool if I got a million followers over this.” In his Twitter photo, he is wearing a shirt that reads, “Team Blackout.”
After the verdict, he wrote, “This is definitely the most fun I’ve had on twitter.” I asked him for a comment, and he replied:
“I'm always gonna maintain my innocence because I am. Now that's its over I'm just having fun with all the talk about it on Twitter.”
Omar said he was happy with the verdict. He had $12,000 in medical bills, and the jury apparently gave him another $10,000 for pain and suffering.
Ms. X’s mother’s car insurance likely will cover the $22,000 jury award from Trad. The jurors wouldn’t speak to me after it was over. Al-Damari said it was ”just a big waste of time.”
He probably got that right.