Briggs guilty of 7 charges
LEWISTOWN – A jury convicted a Newton Hamilton man of seven charges on Thursday including two felony counts of vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol.
Carl Briggs, 43, was also convicted of two felony counts each of vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter, as well as one count of driving under the influence-general impairment. He was also cited by Judge Rick Williams for limitations on overtaking on the left, a summary offense.
Briggs was found not guilty of two counts DUI, which had to do with his alleged specific blood alcohol content at the time of the accident. Charges of aggravated assault while DUI were withdrawn by the prosecution during Thursday’s court proceedings.
Briggs was on trial for the deaths of 64-year-old Bruce E. Kauffman and 63-year-old Judy K. Kauffman, whom he struck with his SUV while they were riding their motorcycle at 4:40 p.m. Oct. 8, 2011, on U.S. 522/22 near McVeytown.
Briggs showed very little reaction during the verdict, however, the jury foreperson became emotional as she read out the charges one by one.
Briggs remains free on $150,000 bail, pending a yet to be scheduled bail hearing and sentencing date.
Following the verdict, Assistant District Attorney Dave Barron said this was a real tragedy.
“Although this was a courtroom victory, there are clearly no winners here. Two lives were lost, there are family members who will never see their parents and grandparents again,” he said.
Defense attorney Joseph Amendola agreed that this was a tragedy.
Amendola said his client was extremely distraught about the deaths of the Kauffmans.
Amendola said the prosecution and defense had two different explanations for the accident.
The defense contended Briggs was in the midst of a diabetic episode when the crash occurred, while the prosecution focused on the amount of alcohol he consumed prior to the accident.
Briggs’ blood-alcohol content was .077, when he was tested at Lewistown Hospital, shortly after the accident, which is below the legal limit of .08 in Pennsylvania.
Dianne Edwards testified on Tuesday Briggs had been at her place drinking with her husband the afternoon of the crash, however, he only had four beers.
Edwards said she has a background in health care and also knows the potential dangers of a diabetic drinking alcohol and would not have let Briggs drive had he exhibited any signs of impairment.
Barry George took the stand shortly after Edwards on Tuesday and described how the accident unfolded.
George said Briggs was attempting to pass him when he noticed a motorcycle coming in the opposite direction. He attempted to slow down in order to give Briggs room to move back over into the southbound lane, but the SUV and motorcycle collided nearly head on.
During closing arguments Thursday morning, Amendola rehashed the two days of testimony the jury heard and asked them not to convict his client based on “assumptions.”
The assumptions Amendola was referring to was the formula Toxicologist Dr. J. Ward Donovan used to extrapolate Briggs’ BAC level back to the time of the accident. Donovan testified on Tuesday for the prosecution, as well as on Wednesday as a rebuttal witness.
Amendola called the extrapolation process “hocus pocus,” during his opening statement on Tuesday.
Amendola asserted throughout the trial that alcohol was not a factor in the accident, but that Briggs was in the midst of a diabetic episode at the time of the accident.
Amendola said the soda bottle his client carried on him was further evidence Briggs felt his blood sugar dropping. Throughout the trial several people testified, including Briggs, that the soda could help alleviate the beginning stages of a diabetic episode.
Amendola also said the diabetic episode is why his client can’t recall any details about what happened.
During Wednesday’s testimony Toxicologist Lawerence Guzzard testified as a defense witness that during severe diabetic events, a person can have memory loss.
Guzzard further stated that the adrenaline created during the accident could have raised Briggs’ blood sugar temporarily, which would account for consciousness immediately following the accident and before he slumped over in the ambulance after the accident.
Guzzard said that ultimately there may have been many factors that contributed to the accident, however, he believes it was primarily the result of Briggs’ drop in blood sugar.
“The Commonwealth didn’t produce one witness that said he was impaired, not one,” Amendola said.
Amendola asked the jury to rely on the observations of those who saw Briggs that day, not Donovan’s model on alcohol absorption.
Amendola said his client had four beers in the hours leading up the accident, however, nobody said he was impaired.
Barron closed by stating that Briggs’ diabetes didn’t negate his alcohol consumption.
Barron said that given Briggs’ diabetic condition, which according to several people who testified throughout the trial, could at times be severe, made him a “ticking time bomb.”
Barron made reference to previous testimony from Briggs’ mother Beverly Briggs and his sister Amanda Seachrist, in which they described how Briggs could slip into a “zombie like state” during severe diabetic episodes.
The assistant DA asked the jury to consider if they thought they could operate an automobile in that kind of state.
Barron said the memory loss statements aren’t valid because Briggs told everyone at the accident what happened, including and EMT and a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper.
Barron said Donovan’s model for alcohol absorption was an “objective scientific model” and not an assumption.
“He was incapable of save driving … this is as unsafe as you can get,” Barron said.
Barron said this is a “real tragedy” and that unfortunately a lot of deaths are caused by alcohol.
Barron also stated that Briggs gave two separate accounts of how much alcohol he had consumed. While in the hospital he told Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Richard Leight he only drank two beers.