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Defense: Man lost consciousness before driving into students

June 17, 2021 GMT
FILE - This Feb. 3, 2020, file photo from the Cleveland County (Oklahoma) Sheriff's Office shows Max Leroy Townsend. Jury selection is set to begin in the case of Townsend, charged with murder for crashing his pickup truck into a group of high school cross country runners, killing three and injuring five. Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said jury selection will begin Tuesday, June 14, 2021, in the trial of Townsend. (Cleveland County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
FILE - This Feb. 3, 2020, file photo from the Cleveland County (Oklahoma) Sheriff's Office shows Max Leroy Townsend. Jury selection is set to begin in the case of Townsend, charged with murder for crashing his pickup truck into a group of high school cross country runners, killing three and injuring five. Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said jury selection will begin Tuesday, June 14, 2021, in the trial of Townsend. (Cleveland County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
FILE - This Feb. 3, 2020, file photo from the Cleveland County (Oklahoma) Sheriff's Office shows Max Leroy Townsend. Jury selection is set to begin in the case of Townsend, charged with murder for crashing his pickup truck into a group of high school cross country runners, killing three and injuring five. Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said jury selection will begin Tuesday, June 14, 2021, in the trial of Townsend. (Cleveland County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — A man on trial for murder for driving into an Oklahoma high school cross-country team, killing three, had lost consciousness after choking on an energy drink before the crash, his attorney said during opening statements.

Max Townsend, 58, is charged with three counts of second-degree murder and with leaving the scene of an accident in the February 2020 crash that killed three Moore High School cross-country runners in suburban Oklahoma City.

Defense attorney Kevin Butler said Townsend choked on the drink as he drove to the home of his 29-year-old son, who had been killed in a auto accident the day before, to plan his son’s funeral.

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“He never even had the opportunity to form the criminal intent necessary to do this,” Butler said.

Prosecutors say Townsend accelerated his pickup truck to 77 mph (124 kph) before crashing into the group.

“The evidence before will show you that he acted with imminently dangerous conduct that endangered the lives of the children who were running outside of the Moore High School,” Assistant District Attorney Christy Miller said.

Townsend faces life in prison if convicted in the crash in Moore that killed Yuridia Martinez, 16, Rachel Freeman, 17, and Kolby Crum, 18 and injured five other team members.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.