A Rockingham County judge ruled Monday that fibers and starch particles found on clothing from a man accused in an August 2018 hit-and-run crash can be presented at trial by prosecutors.
Prosecutors plan to argue those fibers and starch came from the airbag of the vehicle involved in the crash that seriously injured a James Madison University student.
Mashkhal K. Ibrahim, 27, is charged with felony hit-and-run.
A two-day jury trial is set to begin Dec. 12.
The crash happened on Aug. 24, 2018, just before midnight as passengers were getting into a silver SUV stopped in the eastbound right lane of the 400 block of West Market Street.
Jared Antle, then 19, of Williamsburg, was outside the vehicle when a black Honda Pilot crashed into it. He was taken to Sentara RMH Medical Center before being flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.
In October 2018, he was transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Atlanta, the Shepherd Center. He was released in June.
The driver of the Honda fled the scene on foot. Just under 20 minutes after the collision, Ibrahim’s father, Nerges Ibrahim, reported that the vehicle had been stolen.
An affidavit for a search warrant for Mashkhal Ibrahim’s cellphone states that witnesses at the scene of the crash described the suspect as white man with neck tattoos wearing red shorts and a black tank top.
At the Ibrahim family’s Harrisonburg home following the crash, the affidavit states, police found Mashkhal Ibrahim with neck tattoos and wearing the same clothing as the witnesses described.
Police seized the clothing and sent the items to a state laboratory for testing to try to determine whether dust from the vehicle’s airbag was on the clothing.
A lab report filed in circuit court on June 21 showed that the clothing contained starch particles consistent with the airbag dust. Two nylon fibers consistent with those on the airbag were also found on Ibrahim’s clothing.
However, a forensic scientist testified Monday that there’s no way to determine whether the starch came from the airbag in the case or some other object.
Starch is commonly used in airbags as a lubricant for deployment.
During Monday’s hearing in Rockingham County Circuit Court, defense attorney Aaron Cook argued that the lab report should not be allowed at trial.
“The scientific reliability has not been established,” Cook told Judge T.J. Wilson. “It’s just starch particles. It could have come from anywhere.”
Victoria Jensen, assistant commonwealth’s attorney, argued that the methods used in analysis have been well tested.
“The methods have been around for decades,” she told Wilson.
Wilson sided with the prosecutors.
Ibrahim is being held without bond at the Rockingham County Jail.