The road rage incident occurred on Campbell Avenue, at University, one block north of Sunshine Street. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

Murder defendant Elizabeth McKeown was sick and coughing in the days before witnesses say she deliberately drove over a woman, a stranger, and killed her in November 2018, and during that time she randomly was saying the words “red tomato.”

Her now ex-husband Shane McKeown testified Tuesday afternoon and said he had no idea why his wife was using that phrase, but added that they rarely spoke to one another.

McKeown is on trial for the Nov. 20, 2018 murder of Barbara Foster, who was 57 when she was killed that day. A California native, Foster worked as an optician at Eyeglass World, on Battlefield Road.

McKeown’s defense lawyer plans to present witnesses who will contend that McKeown fell into a psychosis, a break from reality, because she was taking cough medicine that contains the ingredient dextromethorphan.

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

(An opening argument is not considered evidence. Medical experts are expected to testify.)

McKeown was interviewed by police multiple times in the hours following the death of Foster. McKeown never invoked her right to have an attorney present.

On Tuesday afternoon, jurors watched videos of three separate interviews she had with Springfield detective Matt Farmer.

Two of the interviews were later that day at the Springfield Police Department. The death occurred at about 5:15 p.m. The final interview was the next morning at the Greene County Jail.

In her interaction with police, McKeown’s behavior was bizarre. At times she seemed confused or somehow cognitively impaired.

She told Farmer that her overarching reason for running over and killing Foster was because she had to get to the bank to make a car payment and she was stuck in traffic, on South Campbell Avenue, behind Foster’s van.

“She wouldn’t go,” McKeown said.

She had to make the payment, she told the detective, because she did not want to make “the emperor” mad.

The “emperor,” she said, was her husband Shane. The two have subsequently divorced.

According to testimony, the two were in a joyless marriage in which they did not talk to each other for days and Elizabeth slept on the couch.

“If he’s mad he won’t talk to me for days,” she told Farmer.

Shane McKeown testified that the two rarely spoke to one other. He also said he did not know how much cough medicine his wife was taking or much else about her.

He said the two were having financial problems.

What’s your education level? She says “ER”

Elizabeth McKeown (Greene County Jail photo)

The audio quality was poor of the videos played in court of Detective Farmer interviewing McKeown. There was a high level of background noise.

In each interview, McKeown signed paperwork waiving her right to have an attorney present.

As part of this process, Farmer asked her if she could read and write and she said yes.

He asked her education level and she said: “ER.”

He said he didn’t know what that meant.

She told him he should know because everyone knows what “ER” means.

He asked her to sign her name on the waiver form.

She wrote three periods in a row followed by two large X’s.

He asked her to date it and he told her the correct date; she wrote down a completely different date.

He asked her name and she, instead, made a series of meaningless sounds.

After a few minutes of the interview, she told him she did not want to talk to him because he wasn’t a girl.

Farmer said he left. McKeown took a nap, and after 15 minutes she again agreed to talk to him.

This time, when Farmer asked her education level she said “K-2.”

He asked if that meant K through 12 and she said yes.

At the time Foster was run over, it was dark.

McKeown said she also was in a hurry because, “I don’t like to be out after the sun goes down. It scares me.”

She explained to Farmer how she drove to get to the scene of the alleged crime, which was at southbound Campbell Avenue, at University, one block north of Sunshine Street.

In telling the detective the route she took, she included the detail that she ran a stop sign.

“I blew right through it,” she volunteered.

She was stuck in traffic behind Foster — whom she described as the “lady with the glasses” — and wanted her to go, even though Foster also was stuck in traffic.

“I nudged her a few times,” McKeown said. She later said it was three to five times.

Foster exited her van and, according to McKeown, was on her cell phone (evidence has shown she was talking to a 911 operator) and yelling at McKeown, asking her why she had driven into her vehicle.

“She looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing?'” McKeown said.

“I said, ‘I’m trying to get going. So move and get out of my way.'”

“I tricked her into thinking I was going to be nice,” McKeown told the detective. “… I slammed into her.

Why?

“Because there needed to be two — not one.”

Farmer said he did not understand. McKeown responded:

“Two. One. Three. I just wanted to go.”

Farmer asked about what drugs she takes and if she took any that day.

McKeown said she took medication for depression and diabetes.

“Lately, I have been taking cough medicine,” she said. “It’s time to take some more.”

She took a breath test that day, following the death, and it indicated she had not been drinking.

McKeown said she is a recovering alcoholic and had been sober three years prior to November 2018.

The next morning, Farmer interviewed her again at 8:30 a.m. at the Greene County Jail.

McKeown this time said she felt remorse for killing Foster.

“I feel bad, sad. Bad and sad.”

Farmer again asked her to explain what happened and why she ran over Foster.

She said again it was because she had to make the car payment.

“I go,” she said. “I accelerated and tapped on her bumper.”

Farmer asked her if she recalled others talking to her.

“That is where it gets a little fuzzy,” she said, adding, “I never made it to the car payment.”

Farmer asked her how she felt about what happened.

“I wish I hadn’t done it.”

Corp. Justin Lloyd was the first officer to talk to McKeown. She was still in her car at the time he arrived soon after the event.

He testified 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.”

The trial is expected to conclude on 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