Murder by Accident

The first time Rexann Dees tried to kill someone with her car, nobody -- not even Dees herself -- disputed the fact that she was mentally disturbed. Her mental illness was significant enough for a judge to find her incompetent to stand trial, and dismiss the felony assault charges filed against her, but not quite enough for the courts to impose treatment for her disease or punishment for her crime. Dees walked away from the accident physically and legally unscathed.

This is what haunts Eddie Temporado, whose young wife was Dees' second victim. "I don't understand," he says. "This lady did this intentionally and they let her get away?"

Neither Dees nor her attorney returned calls for comment.

In the summer of 1994, according to court records, then-39-year-old Dees was in the grips of a mental breakdown. She had exhibited severe mood swings, and irrational speech and behavior in the days leading up to the accident. On the afternoon of June 22, Dees left her home, hoping to hurt herself and someone else by using her car as a weapon.

Dees drove to the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Lincoln Drive and ran the red light at a high rate of speed. Then she made a U-turn and purposefully ran the red light a second time, according to police reports, colliding with a pickup truck. Dees suffered a few scrapes and bruises, and was hospitalized. She was declared to be in an "acute psychotic state" and doctors placed her on a suicide watch.

The driver of the pickup had a fractured skull, a brain injury, a fractured pelvis, and a ruptured diaphragm. She nearly died.

Four days before Christmas last year, Dees was off her meds and once again behind the wheel of her car and running a red light, police say. This time, the driver of the car she hit, Jennifer Temporado -- a 30-year-old mother of three --was pronounced dead at the scene.

It's a crime Jennifer's husband Eddie says could -- and should -- have been prevented. He doesn't understand why Dees was released from jail without so much as a suspended driver's license.

"In 1994 she used a car as a weapon. If she had used a gun instead of a car, the judge would never have said, Here's your gun back, go shoot someone else.'"

But in 1994, Dees was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial. So, in a legitimate but tragic twist of the justice system, no treatment was imposed by the courts for her mental condition, and no restrictions were placed on her activities.

And it was only a matter of time before Dees found herself behind the wheel again.

Both Dees' boyfriend and her daughter told police Dees seemed normal when she left home last December 21. It was her daughter's birthday and she stopped at Fry's to pick up a few groceries: a ham, some chips, and a soda. Dees was in the check-out lane at 8:41 a.m., then back behind the wheel of a six-ton SUV, a red Dodge Durango belonging to her boyfriend. Dees drove right past her home, and continued south.

Within the next five minutes, Dees would be barreling through a red light at the intersection of 111th Avenue and Olive at speeds police say exceeded 83 miles per hour on a stretch zoned for 35. Witnesses watched the Durango careen past them, veer erratically into the oncoming traffic lane to pass, and then bullet straight through the red light demolishing the Oldsmobile Ciera in its path.

Eddie Temporado received a call that morning from the hair salon Jennifer managed. Jennifer was late, which Eddie says was out of character for his wife of 10 years who was habitually punctual. Another phone call to the salon a few minutes later brought news of an accident someone had seen on their way to the salon, and still there was no Jennifer.

Eddie's heart sank, and he quickly began piling the children in the car. "Daddy, is Mommy dead?" his youngest asked. "Shh, don't say that," he told her as he tied her shoes, his stomach churning.

As they drove Jennifer's route to work, Eddie says he kept repeating softly, "Please, God, don't let it be my wife." When they arrived at the accident site, directly across the street from the children's school, his wife's body was already covered by a white tarp. "I started screaming; I knew it was her."

The damage to Jennifer's car was extensive. The Oldsmobile skidded more than 150 feet before rolling onto its roof when it finally came to rest. The force of the collision pushed the steering wheel to where the glove compartment would have been, the driver's side of the car similarly crumpled in a deep V shape that measured five feet at its apex. Witnesses who wanted to help Jennifer moments after the accident saw the condition of the car and realized quickly that the collision was fatal.

From the moment Dees stepped out of her car, the accident began to take a bizarre turn. Bystanders say Dees began shouting, "It's okay, I am a cop." When police arrived, they reported she appeared confused. Dees peed her pants, her pupils were dilated and her heartbeat and breathing rapid, say paramedics who treated her for minor abrasions to one of her legs before sending Dees off to Thunderbird Hospital.

In the hospital, Dees was joined by her boyfriend and daughter, and detectives from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Dees offered detectives an explanation. "I was coming from Fry's, I was going 35, I was up all night, I was paying attention, my light was green and I hit a car."

Detectives found her answers "random and confusing at times as she had trouble with more than one thought at a time."

"I did not notice anything that would lead me to conclude alcohol or drug impairment but feel there may be other medical issues about her," one detective noted.

Dees' blood was tested for alcohol and commonly abused drugs. None were present, but also not present was Serentil, a drug Dees' boyfriend, Michael Draper, told police she had been taking daily for 10 years. Serentil is prescribed to combat symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia, such as delusions, hallucinations and paranoia -- the same symptoms that reportedly plagued Dees in 1994.

Dees was arrested on January 28, 2003, and is currently awaiting trial on charges of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 16 years in prison. Because of changes in Arizona's criminal code since Dees first appeared before the court in 1994, should Dees be found guilty except insane, she would serve out her sentence in a mental hospital.

"I hope she gets life," Eddie Temporado says. "I wouldn't want her to get out and do this to someone else."