The nurse facing murder charges for allegedly slamming her Mercedes-Benz into traffic this month in Windsor Hills was in the throes of a “frightening” mental health crisis in the days, hours and minutes before the crash, new court records filed by her attorneys show.
The revelations came in a comprehensive filing by Nicole Linton’s defense attorneys that offers the most detailed narrative yet of the events leading up to the horrific crash that killed five people and an unborn child.
The motion and attachments, obtained by The Times, detail the nurse’s four-year struggle with bipolar disorder and include a determination by doctors in the immediate aftermath of the deadly incident that Linton suffered an “apparent lapse of consciousness” at the time of the crash.
Linton is accused of speeding her sedan down La Brea Avenue toward the busy intersection at Slauson Avenue shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 4. Authorities say she was going around 90 mph when she barreled through a light that had been red for nine seconds and slammed into passing traffic.
The fiery crash killed five, including a pregnant woman and a baby. The Los Angeles district attorney charged Linton with six counts of murder, including the pregnant woman’s unborn child.
Five people were killed. The charges filed against the driver underscore a controversy in California’s fetal homicide law.
Linton has been held in jail since the crash, with prosecutors alleging she is a flight risk and a danger to the community. They said in a filing that Linton was suffering from deteriorating mental health issues before the crash.
“She has no recollection of the events that led to her collision,” wrote doctor William Winter on Aug. 6. Winter 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.
Winter wrote that Linton has bipolar disorder and suffered an “apparent lapse of consciousness” at the time of the crash, according to the heavily redacted medical records.
Linton’s family became aware of her mental health issues in May 2018 when she was a nursing student at the University of Texas in Houston, her lawyers wrote. Her sister Camille Linton said in a letter to the court that Nicole’s studies to be a nurse anesthetist caused her first mental health breakdown.
“The stress was too much for her and it ‘broke’ her,” Camille Linton wrote. “Thus beginning the journey of Nicole’s 4-year struggle with mental illness.”
She ran out of her apartment in May 2018 during a panic attack, and when police approached her, she jumped on a police car and was arrested for disorderly conduct, her attorneys wrote.
Linton called her family from the police station and was concerned about the well-being of her pet turtle, according to her attorneys.
A few days after that arrest, Linton told her family that she believed she was possessed by her dead grandmother.
The next day, at Ben Taub psychiatric hospital, Linton required stitches on her forehead after she banged her head into a glass partition while ranting about the police and Supreme Court, the lawyers wrote. She sang Bob Marley as the medical staff treated her wound, the records say.
It was at Ben Taub that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed psychiatric medication, the defense motion says.
More than a year later, Linton was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward after a neighbor called her family after seeing Linton running around her apartment complex naked, the attorneys said.
Linton’s mental health deteriorated further after she stopped taking her psychiatric medication during the pandemic. Her lawyers said an online therapist told her she merely suffered from anxiety.
Linton began acting strangely, not sleeping and becoming obsessive about cleaning. She ranted at family members and accused them of stealing from her, her lawyers said.
“In the days and hours leading up to the events of August 4, Nicole’s behavior became increasingly frightening,” wrote her attorneys.
Linton was in contact with one of her sisters, and kept telling her that her coworkers at the West Los Angeles Medical Center were “acting weird,” her lawyers said.
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The day of the crash, Linton drove home from the hospital for lunch and FaceTimed her sister completely naked, according to the court papers.
She then went back to work, and called her sister again at 1:24 p.m. saying she was leaving work again, just minutes before the crash.
“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.
While the extent of Linton’s injuries from the crash were not included in the report, Winter mentioned “fractures” and Linton’s lawyers said that the traveling nurse is using a wheelchair to move around jail.
“The medical records are an objective unbiased account of what happened here,” Linton’s attorney, Jacqueline Sparagna, told The Times.
But Linton’s lawyers argued that mental health issues and Linton’s “apparently bizarre” actions are no reason to keep her locked up and that Linton should be released for testing at UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital. They said she would wear an ankle monitor or submit 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,” wrote attorneys Halim Dhanidina and Jacqueline Sparagna in the filing Monday.
Otherwise, Linton should be released on no more than $300,000 bail, the attorneys said, adding that was all Linton could afford.
“The safety and well being of the residents of Los Angeles are our primary concern,” said Dist. Atty. George Gascón in a statement to The Times. “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.”
Linton is accused by the district attorney of reckless disregard for life in connection with the multi-vehicle crash. She faces five manslaughter counts on top of the six murder counts.
“In an instant, Ms. Linton’s conduct took the lives of six people and injured many others,” Gascón said at a press conference days after the crash.
The crash caused the deaths of 23-year-old Asherey Ryan; her nearly 1-year-old child, Alonzo Quintero; her boyfriend, Reynold Lester; and their unborn child. Ryan was 8½ months pregnant when she was killed. Also killed were friends Nathesia Lewis, 43, and Lynette Noble, 38.
“I already cried. I cried. I didn’t sleep one bit. I’m all cried out,” said Sha’seana Kerr, Ryan’s sister, the day after the crash. “We have to bury four people.”
Linton’s lawyers noted that blood tests showed their client had no narcotics or alcohol in her system except for fentanyl that was given to her after the crash.
They also countered prosecutors’ arguments that Linton has a history of dangerous 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.”
They got backup in the letter of a family friend of Linton, a former federal prosecutor in Washington D.C.
Prosecutors said in their filing that Linton’s history of mental illness included “jumping on police cars to jumping out of apartment windows.” But the defense attorneys responded that the D.A.’s office unfairly pluralized “events occurring only once.”
And the apartment window Linton jumped out during a “manic episode” was on the first floor, according to Linton’s sister, who filed a declaration along with the defense’s bail argument.
The two women, identified as Nathesia Lewis and Lynette Noble, were traveling in the same car at the time of the deadly crash.
The defense included in its documents character letters from Linton’s family and friends.
Beverly Harrison, Linton’s mother, said her daughter came to America from Jamaica when she was 10 and grew up without her father. Over the last two years, her daughter spent her birthdays in Jamaica at her mother’s remote home in the mountainous region of Jamaica and took care of her.
“She is a Godly person who put her trust in him,” Harrison wrote to the court. “She is a person that if she says or do anything she regrets, she will come back to say that she is sorry and ask you for forgiveness. My sweet baby I love her but God loves her best.”
One of Linton’s other five siblings, Kimberly, said her sister became a traveling nurse during the pandemic and wanted to start medical school next year to become a doctor.
“Nicole is about saving lives and she always has both empathy and sympathy for any life that’s loss and the family no matter how many time one can see that sort of thing in that field,” Kimberly Linton wrote.
Her brother, Donovan Dallas, who is the deputy superintendent of police in Saint Andrew North in Jamaica, believes his sister did not intentionally cause the crash. He asked that she be released into her family’s care.
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Noah Goldberg covers breaking news for the Los Angeles Times. He worked previously in New York City as the Brooklyn courts reporter for the New York Daily News, covering major criminal trials as well as working on enterprise stories. Before that, he was the criminal justice reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle.
Nathan Solis is a Metro reporter covering breaking news at the Los Angeles Times. He previously worked for Courthouse News Service, where he wrote both breaking news and enterprise stories ranging from criminal justice to homelessness and politics. Before that, Solis was at the Redding Record Searchlight as a multimedia journalist, where he anchored coverage of the destructive 2017 fires in Northern California. Earlier in his career, he worked for Eastsider L.A.
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