Lawyer blames cough syrup for 2018 vehicular homicide in Springfield

The Springfield News-Leader

Attorneys gave their opening statements Tuesday morning in front of 14 jurors — 12 women and two men — for the murder trial of a Springfield woman who is accused of purposefully running over a stranger in November 2018.

Elizabeth McKeown, now 50, is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of 57-year-old Barbara Foster in 2018. Police say McKeown ran over Foster and then tried to leave the scene.

According to prosecutors and evidence presented on the first day of the trial, McKeown, who was on the way to her bank that afternoon to make a car payment, initially rear-ended Foster on Campbell Avenue, when Foster wasn’t driving fast enough.

However, police say when Foster exited her vehicle and attempted to call 911 to report the crash, McKeown then backed up, and ran Foster over, dragging her under the vehicle and speeding off before being blocked in at the next intersection by other cars who had seen the incident.

In the state’s opening statement, Assistant Greene County Prosecutor Dane Rennier painted a picture of what happened that day and outlined the state’s evidence that would be presented during the trial.

“Ms. Foster didn’t survive this incident,” Rennier said. “She died at the hospital as a result of her injuries and because of that, the state has charged Ms. McKeown with one count of murder in the first degree and one count of armed criminal action.”

Rennier said the evidence during this week’s trial will include testimony from the witnesses who boxed McKeown in when she attempted to flee and the investigating officers from the Springfield Police Department as well as several audio recordings and video footage from the incident, including the 911 call Foster made right before being run over.

Besides the dash camera footage from police, once they arrived on the scene, there is also video footage from a witness who was an Uber driver and also had a dash cam in his car and caught most of the incident on camera.

Rennier painted McKeown as someone with no remorse, pointing to an interview she had with an SPD officer the night of the incident where she allegedly said “I tricked her, you know? I made her think I was going to be nice and be still and everything, and then I slammed into her and I cut her in half.”

“When the state’s evidence is finished, we will have proven to you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant took the life of Ms. Barbara Foster,” Rennier said.

However, McKeown’s attorney Jon Van Arkel in his opening statement painted a completely different picture of McKeown, arguing that at the time of the crash she was suffering from substance-induced psychosis brought on by cough syrup, which her body could not metabolize correctly.

“Ms. McKeown unwittingly, unknowingly, accidentally consumed a narcotic in the cough syrup without knowing or realizing what effect it would have on her,” Van Arkel said. “She did not deliberately take the cough syrup to get any sort of high or euphoria, her intent was to suppress her cough.”

According to Van Arkel, the defense will present evidence to support that theory, including testimony from multiple medical experts who will speak to McKeown’s mental capacity at the time of the incident and in the hours that followed.

“When you hear all the evidence, the judge will instruct you that you can consider Ms. McKeown is not guilty of the offense either because she suffered from a mental illness or because she didn’t have the culpable mental state needed, under the law, to be found guilty of these offenses,” Van Arkel said.

According to court documents, McKeown was not under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash, however, a blood test revealed she had cough syrup in her system as well as other drugs that had been prescribed to her.