Warning: Some details of the crash are graphic.
MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — In front of a packed courtroom Wednesday morning, opening statements began in the trial of a Mobile doctor charged with murder. Prosecutors say neurosurgeon Jonathan Nakhla had been drinking alcohol for hours before the wreck that killed USA medical student Samantha Thomas. Nakhla’s defense argued that he was drinking coffee and another driver is responsible for the crash.
Thomas was killed in a crash that night in August 2020, eight seconds after Nakhla’s Audi Spider black box recorded the vehicle driving 138 mph. The sports car left the road and wrecked into a ditch on the West I-65 Service Road in Mobile.
Former District Attorney Ashley Rich, who retired ahead of the 2022 election but is working this case as an assistant district attorney, set a theme for the judge on Wednesday. She said Nakhla was “entitled.”
Rich said Nakhla was drinking poolside at the apartment complex where both he and Thomas lived from 7 p.m. until midnight. Rich alleged that Nakhla was drinking whiskey, is on video with drinks in his hand, and was recorded leaving the pool and going to his apartment for two bottles of wine.
Rich said Nakhla’s blood alcohol level after the wreck was a .11, over the legal .08 limit. Rich said the car flipped in the air, hit the guardrail, which cut off the top of Samantha Thomas’ head, and landed in the ditch.
Rich said that the first thing Nakhla did when first responders arrived was show them his police ID card, which he had because he volunteered as a police surgeon. Rich said Nakhla has a history of using that ID card to get out of speeding tickets.
Nakhla’s defense offered a different narrative, saying “this is a civil negligence matter and not a criminal matter.”
Nakhla’s attorney said he suffered a “serious concussion” as a result of the crash. When someone suffers a concussion, they go into shock, the defense said, and as a result are confused and say things they don’t really mean.
The defense said Nakhla had to get 16 stitches to his head and was in denial that Thomas was dead.
The defense also said Nakhla was not responsible for the crash. Instead, the defense said another driver turned in front of Nakhla without signaling, causing Nakhla to swerve.
According to the defense, Nakhla was drinking coffee, not alcohol, in the videos of him holding drinks. The defense also questioned the accuracy of the Spider’s black box and said the original engine had been replaced with a Lamborghini engine. The defense admitted that Nakhla was “overly proud of his car.”
Opening statements wrapped Wednesday morning. Testimony was set to begin after lunch. WKRG News 5 has a team in the courtroom. We will update this story as we learn more.