Local News

Woman Who Admits Running Over UNC Reporter Testifies In Court

Posted November 10, 2004 5:06 a.m. EST

— The woman who admits she ran down a man on Interstate 40 took the stand Wednesday in the case against a friend who tried to cover for her.

Rabah Samara faces felony and misdemeanor hit-and-run charges for his role in the death of Stephen Gates. Gates was changing a flat tire on Interstate 40 on Oct. 4, 2003, when he was hit by a Cadillac Escalade.

Prosecutors said Emily Caveness was behind the wheel, but switched seats with Samara, who drove off. Caveness worked a deal with prosecutors. In August, she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for failing to report an accident in exchange for her testimony.

Caveness testified she heard a loud noise, but she said she did not know if she would hit anything. A few hours after the accident, the SUV was pulled over by Raleigh police.

However, it was the testimony of two truckers who saw the SUV hit Stephen Gates that moved the courtroom. Trucker Bruce Cottrell told jurors it is something he will never forget.

"I've been a trucker for 30 years and it's the worst accident I've ever seen," he said.

Cottrell testified he and Patricia Sawyer followed the Cadillac Escalade until it stopped a few miles down the road. They said Samara got out of the passenger's side and they told him about Gates.

"He said, 'I didn't hit anybody,' and I said, 'Yes, you did. He's laying in the middle of the highway,'" Sawyer said.

Cottrell and Sawyer testified they saw Caveness move over and Samara get behind the wheel and take off. Sawyer choked up as she told jurors she still cannot believe anyone in the SUV didn't realize they'd hit someone.

"When they hit him, his car door and him -- Mr. Gates -- were under their vehicle and he's just tumbling around underneath and sparks are flying. It's something I'll never forget," she said.

An officer told jurors Tuesday he did not understand how anyone could not have known something was wrong. He said the headlight was gone, the hood and grill damaged and blood was spattered from the front end of the Escalade to the back end.

The prosecution rested on Wednesday. The defense will present its case on Friday. In their opening statements, defense attorneys said Samara had been sleeping when the accident happened. They claim Samara woke to hysteria and was confused.