Attorneys for a traveling nurse facing manslaughter charges for six people who died in a fiery crash argue that she suffered an “apparent lapse of consciousness” when she barreled through other vehicles at a Los Angeles interaction earlier this month.
Authorities said Nicole Linton was driving 90 mph when she drove through a light that had been red for nine seconds on Aug. 4, smashing other vehicles that erupted in flames on impact. Five people and an unborn baby were killed.
Linton’s attorneys argue that she was in the middle of a “frightening” mental health crisis leading up to the crash. They argue she should be either housed at a mental facility or released on a lower bond in the care of family, according to court filings reported on by the Los Angeles Times.
According to her attorneys, Linton struggled with bipolar disorder for four years. Her mental health was declining months over the days and hours leading up to the crash, and she was not of a sound mind when she accelerated through the light. The claims were backed by a physician who said Linton had an “apparent lapse of consciousness.”
“She has no recollection of the events that led to her collision,” wrote doctor William Winter on Aug. 6. He treated Linton at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
“The next thing she recalled was lying on the pavement and seeing that her car was on fire,” he wrote.
Linton’s relatives first noticed her behavioral issues in 2018 while she was studying to be a nurse anesthetist at the University of Texas.
Linton was reportedly a respected intensive care nurse based in Houston. She started working as a traveling nurse at the onset of the pandemic and was stationed in California at the time of the crash. Her family said she wanted to start medical school next year to become a doctor.
According to court documents, Linton ran out of her apartment with a panic attack while attending the University of Texas in May 2018. She jumped on a patrol car and was arrested for disorderly conduct.
A few days later, Linton told her family she believed that the spirit of her dead grandmother possessed her, reports show.
“The stress was too much for her and it ‘broke’ her,” her sister Camille Linton wrote in a letter to the court. “Thus beginning the journey of Nicole’s 4-year struggle with mental illness.”
Linton was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she banged her head on a partition while ranting about the criminal justice system. She was diagnosed then with bipolar disorder and prescribed psychiatric medication.
The traveling nurse was committed more than a year later after a neighbor reportedly saw her walking around her housing complex naked. But Linton stopped taking her medication during the pandemic, according to court documents.
According to court filings, an online therapist told Linton she was only dealing with anxiety. Her attorneys argued that her mental health issues got worse. She started acting strange, had problems sleeping and became obsessed with cleaning. She also accused family members of stealing from her, reports show.
“In the days and hours leading up to the events of August 4, Nicole’s behavior became increasingly frightening,” wrote her attorneys.
On the day of the crash, Linton went home from the West Los Angeles Medical Center for lunch, where her sister, Camille, said she called her on FaceTime in the nude. She returned to work and called her sister again minutes before the crash as she was leaving work at 1:24 p.m.
“She told her sister that she was flying out to meet her in Houston the next day so she could do her niece’s hair. She also said that she would be getting married and that her sister should meet her at the altar,” the lawyers wrote.
Linton’s attorney, Jacqueline Sparagna, told The Los Angeles Times that her “medical records are an objective unbiased account of what happened here.”
The legal team contends that she should be released for testing at UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital. They proposed keeping track of her with an ankle monitor and are open to any other conditions imposed by the court.
“Ms. Linton would be most appropriately housed in a mental health treatment facility where she can be monitored and treated for her illness,” the attorneys wrote.
However, many on social media accused Linton’s attorneys of using her mental health issues as an “excuse” for her actions. Others also question how she could function as an ICU nurse if her mental health was out of sorts.
“Interesting case. The outcome seems bad for her either way, in prison or a ward. Kinda surprised she was able to go this long with her condition. She going to need a miracle,” wrote Twitter user Frederick Vassar.
“They’re really trying to push this insanity defense for Nicole Linton!” wrote Jacqualine Ojutalayo on Twitter. “Now their saying she may have lost consciousness & suffered a mental collapse behind the wheel! She drove 100mph through the intersection of LaBrea & Slauson killing 5 people! Where’s the accountability?”
If the court does not agree to transfer Linton to a psychiatric facility, her attorneys asked the court to consider lowering her $9 million bond to no more than $300,000. She was charged with six counts of murder and five counts of gross vehicular manslaughter. Linton could serve up to 90 years in prison.
Her attorneys maintained that Linton had mental issues from the start and also disputed prosecutors’ claims that she had a record of reckless driving.
“A fifty-state comprehensive search of insurance records reveals that Ms. Linton has no such history,” wrote Linton’s lawyers. “In fact, Ms. Linton was determined to be at fault in only three prior collisions, the most recent of which occurring in 2014.”
Her legal team also pointed out that Linton had no drugs or alcohol in her system except for fentanyl, which was given to her after the collision.
Some say Linton has faced more criticism than Anne Heche, who crashed into a Los Angeles home a day later. The Hollywood actress was reportedly under the influence of cocaine when she rammed into the house, causing a fire. A woman in the home lost all her belongings in the blaze, and Heche died a week later.
“Watching folks find empathy for Anne Heche while condemning Nicole Linton to hell, is something,” wrote Monique Paprika on Twitter on Aug. 12, the day Heche died.
Still, others argue that even though Heche was driving under the influence, she was the only person who died in that crash.
Linton reportedly sustained “fractures” and is using a wheelchair to move around in jail. The family of one of the victims, Nathesia Lewis, said her body was so unrecognizable that she had to be identified with DNA. The crash also killed Lewis’ best friend, Lynette Noble. Asherey Ryan, her 11-month-old son, Alonzo Quintero, and her boyfriend, Reynold Lester also died in the fiery collision. The family was on their way to Ryan’s prenatal visit.
“The safety and well being of the residents of Los Angeles are our primary concern,” said District Attorney George Gascón in a statement.” Under my policy, preventative detention can be requested under a case-specific analysis to protect public safety and to reasonably ensure the defendant’s return to court.”