Attorney Jon Van Arkel and defendant Elizabeth McKeown. (Photo by Nathan Papes/Springfield News-Leader via media pool)

The first day of the murder trial of Elizabeth McKeown started Tuesday with the horrific details of the death of the woman she is accused of deliberately running over — and with a recounting of McKeown’s bizarre behavior during and following the death.

Defense attorney Jon Van Arkel in his opening statement described McKeown, 50, as a woman battling depression and alcoholism whose marriage was falling apart at the time she ran over Barbara Foster, who was 57 when she died that day. The death was on Nov. 20, 2018.

McKeown and her husband have since divorced. He is expected to testify later in the trial.

What does cough syrup have to do with it?

Days before the death, Van Arkel said, McKeown was feeling ill and took cough syrup without alcohol in it.

“She had been sober four or five years … She did not know anything about the effects of dextromethorphan,” Van Arkel said in his opening argument.

Dextromethorphan is a key ingredient in many cough syrups.

Van Arkel said it has subsequently been discovered that McKeown’s liver is missing an enzyme needed to metabolize the drug.

“The level of dextromethorphan was increased in her system and caused the psychosis that she suffered from,” Van Arkel said.

Van Arkel used the phrase “bipolar moment.” He did not say McKeown suffered from bipolar disorder.

Various medical experts are expected to testify about the impact the cough syrup might have had, if any, on McKeown’s actions that day.

According to testimony on Tuesday, police believed McKeown was under the influence of something. But it was not alcohol. Her breath was tested and showed no trace of alcohol.

Justin Lloyd was the first Springfield police officer to make contact with McKeown after she was boxed in by witnesses in their vehicles at West Sunshine and South Campbell.

He testified Tuesday that he approached McKeown’s black Mustang with his gun drawn and when he asked McKeown what her name was she replied:

“Red tomato.”

When he asked her where she lived, he said, she replied:

“Up your butt and around the corner, officer.”

When he asked: What is your problem? He said she responded:

“You, officer.”

“I believed she might have been under the influence of something,” Lloyd said.

Springfield Police Officer Benjamin Kaufman, an expert on signs of impaired driving, testified that McKeown failed various tests given to suspected impaired drivers.

He said he concluded she was impaired by some type of drug.

McKeown declined to have blood drawn, so Kaufman obtained a search warrant and then obtained the blood.

Lab tests showed McKeown was taking an antihistamine, as well as medication for depression. It also showed there was dextromethorphan in her system.

Kaufman testified that in general McKeown followed his directions and answered his questions — but not always. Some of her answers made no sense.

He asked her if she had been drinking and she said: “Budweiser.” (Yet, the breath test showed she had not been drinking.)

He asked how much beer she had drunk and she said, “All eight.”

He asked her if she had been using drugs and she said:

Heroin, Molly and Jane.

Kaufman testified that cough syrup can deliberately be misused by people seeking a feeling of euphoria.

In some cases, he said, it can cause hallucinations, although he did not conclude that McKeown was having hallucinations.

Victim was on 911 call when she was hit

Prosecution witnesses on Tuesday established what happened on the day of Foster’s death. Their testimony went mostly unchallenged by defense attorney Van Arkel.

The recounting was grisly and included Foster’s 911 call and the video footage of an Uber driver who was one of the witnesses who boxed McKeown in as she tried to drive away.

Foster was stopped in traffic at about 5:15 p.m. in southbound Campbell, near University Street. It was dark, but not yet night.

McKeown was behind her. She told police later that she was in a hurry to get to the bank to make a car payment. She drove into the rear of Foster’s vehicle.

Foster left her vehicle to see the damage and witnesses say McKeown then accelerated and drove her over.

At that moment, Foster was on the phone making a 911 call. Her call was played in court Tuesday morning. You can hear Foster say:

“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”

It is followed by silence and the 911 operator saying, “Ma’am? … Ma’am?”

Uber driver Jason Devall, of Nixa, provided police with video from the two-way camera mounted on his dashboard. The video was played in court, twice, once for each direction.

Devall testified that he saw McKeown run Foster over and drag her body about 15 feet.

He said McKeown drove off but was stuck in traffic at the red light at Sunshine.

When McKeown tried to drive off, Devall laid on his horn and followed her. He pulled up next to her and rolled down his window:

“You just ran over her!”

“You just killed her!”

“You killed her!”

“You ran that woman over!”

“She is dead!”

“She is dead!”

“I have it on camera!”

(Foster was not pronounced dead at the scene. She died soon after.)

Devall was on the passenger side of McKeown’s car. He testified that he did not know how to interpret McKeown’s response to him: She made a hand gesture that seemed, to him, to indicate the rolling down of a window.

She then accelerated into the vehicle in front of hers and tried to push it out of the way.

McKeown drove into that vehicle a second time. The bumpers of the two vehicles locked. Police arrived.

The trial is expected to conclude Friday.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin