Closing arguments expected today
LEWISTOWN – A full day of testimony was heard on Tuesday during the second day of a vehicular homicide trial.
By mid-afternoon Judge Rick Williams, along with defense attorney Joseph Amendola and Assistant District Attorney Dave Barron, opted to send the jury home and bring the members back Thursday to hear closing arguments before they begin their deliberations.
The second day of the trial for 43-year-old Carl Briggs was much the same as the first day of testimony and revolved around the defense’s assertion that Briggs was not drunk when he struck and killed 64-year-old Bruce E. Kauffman and 63-year-old Judy K. Kauffman while they were riding their Harley Davidson motorcycle on U.S. 22/522 near McVeytown. The defense contends Briggs was in the midst of a diabetic episode when the crash occurred.
Briggs is alleged to have been under the influence of alcohol on Oct. 8, 2011, when his SUV struck the Kauffmans’ motorcycle in the late afternoon around 4:40 p.m.
During the first day of the trial Barry George, a witness for the prosecution who was driving in front of Briggs before the incident, 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.
Both George and his wife Dolores testified they believed the motorcycle had its headlight on.
Amendola asked the Georges if it was a sunny day, and if the sun had been in their eyes.
The Georges confirmed it was sunny; both of them claimed to have been wearing sunglasses at the time of the accident.
Amendola had suggested on Tuesday that the sun may have been a contributing factor 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.
Among the last to testify on Tuesday was Dr. J. Ward Donovan, Chief Medical Toxicologist at Pinnacle Health Systems, who was able to extrapolate that Briggs’ blood-alcohol content at the time of the accident was at or above .08 and may have been as high as .10.
Dr. Ted Hetrick was the first witness to testify for the defense on Wednesday.
Hetrick is an emergency room physician at Lewistown Hospital who examined Briggs approximately two hours after the accident.
Hetrick testified Briggs did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol.
Then Amendola called Briggs’ sister, Amanda Seachrist, and his mother, Beverly Briggs, to testify.
Both testified that the defendant had a long history of diabetic episodes of which he has no clear memory.
“Sometimes it was like he was in a zombie state,” Seachrist said.
Briggs’ mother said that there were times during these diabetic episodes in which his demeanor would be similar to that of someone who was intoxicated.
She said his speech may have been slurred or perhaps he would have difficulty walking.
In addition, both testified that Briggs has no recollection of these severe diabetic events.
Seachrist said when she visited her brother in the hospital the night of the accident he was extremely distraught.
“He was sitting in bed crying he wanted to die. He was afraid he was going to hell, that God would hate him. We prayed with him,” she said.
At one point during her testimony, Briggs’ mother said her son stated that very same night that “it should have been me that died.”
She also said she never saw her son go into a diabetic episode after drinking alcohol.
Briggs’ mother did state that her son had several of these diabetic episodes in the week or weeks leading up to the crash, and had lowered the dose of insulin he was injecting.
Briggs took the stand as well, laying out what he had done the day of the crash.
Among the things Briggs testified about were explanations for those who reported he had glassy, bloodshot eyes on the day of the crash.
Briggs testified he had several eye surgeries years ago, which as a result have left his eyes almost permanently blood shot.
Briggs testified he took his morning dose of insulin, had breakfast, lunch and then got a six-pack of beer while at a friends house.
Briggs testified he drank four beers at a friends house in the afternoon, then left sometime during the first quarter of a Penn State football game.
Briggs said that in the month leading up to the crash his doctor had changed the dosage of his medication, which he believes led to an increase in these diabetic episodes, so he dialed down the dosage and they became less frequent.
Briggs added that if he had believed he was a danger behind the wheel of a car, he wouldn’t have driven.
Briggs said he has no recollection of the accident and doesn’t recall anything from the time he hit the red light in McVeytown until he was at Lewistown Hospital.
On cross examination by Barron, he asked Briggs if he remembered speaking with Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Stephen Griffith while he was sitting in EMT Nick Price’s ambulance.
Briggs said he did not recall the conversation, which Griffith testified to on Tuesday, stating that Briggs smelled of alcohol and was talking slowly and had bloodshot eyes.
Price had testified on Tuesday that he, too, smelled alcohol on Briggs, however he appeared conscious and alert and discussed the accident. Price added that 20 to 25 minutes into his conversation with Briggs, he slumped over and became unresponsive. He was then given glucose orally by Price and a paramedic gave him an injection shortly thereafter which eventually brought Briggs back to a conscious state.
Amendola called toxicologist Lawrence Guzzard to testify on Wednesday to refute direct testimony given by Guzzard’s friend and colleague during the first day of the trial, toxicologist J. Ward Donovan.
Guzzard said the data associated with this particular case is “poor,” and that it is very difficult to extrapolate backwards to determine an individuals BAC to a specific point in time.
“Alcohol absorption is not a simple matter, it’s a complex matter,” he said.
Guzzard said that in this particular incident, it was better to rely on the testimony of those came into direct contact with Briggs on the day of the accident.
“In this case there was no evidence that alcohol contributed to (a diabetic) event in the past,” he said.
Once again, Mountain Dew came up during testimony as a possible supplement to fend off the beginnings of a diabetic episode.
Briggs, as well as others both Tuesday and Wednesday testified he would always have Mountain Dew on him, as a precaution to keep his blood sugar from crashing.
Guzzard said it could cause an upward trend in blood sugar, thus helping someone maintain a more normal blood sugar level.
“Mountain Dew is two and half times the sugar the EMT gave him,” he said.
Guzzard also testified 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.
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.
Donovan was then called briefly to rebut Guzzard’s testimony.
The jury will decide today if Briggs is guilty or not guilty of vehicular homicide, as well as charges of homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI, DUI, involuntary manslaughter and several other traffic violations.
Closing arguments begin at 8:30 a.m. in the Mifflin County Court of Common Pleas. The jury is expected to have the case for deliberations sometime this morning. Pending further court action, Briggs remains free on bail.