Witnesses: Driver was 'focused on collecting the pills' after wreck that killed child

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Christopher Eric McMorris (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) Christopher Eric McMorris (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Christopher Eric McMorris (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) Christopher Eric McMorris (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

The man who was behind the wheel of a Chevy Tahoe that rolled near Tonopah killing a little girl earlier this week is facing charges of manslaughter, aggravated assault and endangerment.

According to the Department of Public Safety, Christopher Eric McMorris, 31, of Litchfield Park was arrested as soon as he was released from the hospital.

Kodie L. Johnson, 23, also from Litchfield Park, and five children were in the Tahoe when it crashed while eastbound on Interstate 10 early Tuesday morning.

“Witnesses told investigators that the Tahoe was driven in a reckless manner by speeding and swerving all over the road,” according to DPS.

[ORIGINAL STORY: DPS: Child killed, 3 others hurt in serious crash on EB I-10 west of Phoenix]

Investigators say when McMorris lost control of the vehicle, it swerved into the median and then back across the traffic lanes. It then rolled over on the dirt shoulder.

“Eric was seen crawling out of the driver's door window by witnesses who stopped at the scene,” according to McMorris’ court paperwork. “Eric was seen stumbling and falling multiple times around the collision scene. A witness said Eric appeared to be impaired by drugs ….”

Johnson and two of the children were thrown out of the Tahoe.

One of them, a little girl, was wearing safety restraints but suffered fatal injuries. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Another child who was not properly restrained sustained serious injuries.

Although he was out of the vehicle and able to move around on his own, witnesses told DPS McMorris did nothing to help his passengers.

“Eric was witnessed running around the scene collecting open pills and pill bottles lying on the ground and shoving them down his pants, near his crotch,” the probable cause for arrest statement reads. “Witnesses described Eric as not helping the other occupants of the vehicle and he was focused on collecting the pills.”

“Eric McMorris was observed hiding items, later to be identified as prescription pill bottles, under trees in two separate locations near the vehicle, and buried a hypodermic needle and spoon in the dirt next to his vehicle,” the probable cause statement continues.

McMorris, Johnson and the surviving four children were taken to the hospital.

According to court documents, McMorris told a detective at the hospital that “he was driving his girlfriend and their children … home from Venice, California …,” and that they had left late Monday night.

When asked about the pills and prescription bottles, McMorris listed a variety of ailments, including a slipped disc in his back, a torn shoulder, anxiety and asthma.

"Eric said he takes, morphine, oxycodone and Xanax to manage his pain," according to his court paperwork.

The detective who interviewed McMorris noted what appeared to be needle marks and scarring from old needle sticks on his arms and legs

While we do not know the conditions of Johnson and the children -- ages 11, 10, 8 and 1, according to court documents -- McMorris has since been released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon. He was taken into custody immediately.

A secured appearance bond was set at $500,000.

“State detectives are investigating and additional charges [against McMorris] may be forthcoming,” according to DPS.

McMorris is due back in court for a status conference on Oct. 25 followed by a preliminary hearing on Oct. 27.

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