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Charges to stand in fatal crash

Coulter E. Mann
Coulter E. Mann
Crescent Elk Middle School Assistant Principal Coulter E. Mann was at a party kicking off Christmas vacation before crashing into an oncoming car near Smith River and killing its driver, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing Tuesday.

Mann, 32, appeared in the Del Norte Superior Courthouse with a cast on his left leg. After hearing arguments and witness testimony, Judge Philip Schafer ruled Mann would be held to answer  on charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a  blood alcohol content of .08 or above with an injury including a special allegation of registering a BAC over .15 and failing to drive on the correct side of the roadway. 

“Probable cause is established by virtue of a (.20 BAC level),” said Schafer as he delivered his decision.

A prosecution attempt to tack on a second-degree murder charge was denied.

Mann is still on paid administrative leave, but will be resigning June 30 — the end of his contract with the school district, said Superintendent Don Olson.

The School Board will take action toward the resignation next week, Olson said.

Deputy District Attorney Todd Zocchi used California Highway Patrol Officer Ted Luna as his main witness during the hearing. Luna was the responding officer who headed the investigation into the Dec. 21 head-on collision on U.S. Highway 101 near Smith River that killed 67-year-old Klamath resident Kenneth G. Jones and injured Mann. 

Earlier that night, Mann was at a house party on Turnbull Lane hosted by Crescent Elk Principal Bill Hartwick and attended by other school district employees, Luna said.

During the course of his investigation, Luna said he interviewed Hartwick, Smith River School Principal Paige Swann and Del Norte High School Assistant Principal Randy Fugate, who all stated Mann did not seem impaired at the party.

Luna testified that Fugate told him he offered Mann a ride home twice during a conversation they had shortly before Mann’s departure. Mann declined both times, Luna said, adding that Fugate offered the rides simply because he saw Mann drinking.

Mann eventually left the party in his 2003 GMC Sierra truck heading north when at around 8:54 p.m. it veered fully into the southbound lane on U.S. Highway 101  before hitting a 2005 Ford Focus that Jones was driving south of Fred Haight Drive, Luna said.

Luna described what he saw when he arrived to the scene about 15 minutes later.

“There were numerous cars in the northbound and southbound lanes,” said Luna. “What I observed was Mr. Mann located in the driver seat of the pickup seat-belted with his left foot trapped. At that point it was his medical condition that we were concerned about.”

The left tire of the pickup had been pushed through the floor base, Luna said.

He then testified seeing Jones in the driver seat leaning to the right with his torso behind him.

“There was no contact and at that time no pulse,” said Luna.

A couple was driving about 60 feet ahead of Jones prior to the collision, and the driver noticed Mann’s truck approaching and stated, “That car is going to hit us,” before the truck veered into the southbound lane, Luna said.

The driver “drove completely onto the right shoulder” as Mann’s truck missed them by about 3 feet, Luna said.

Luna said the passenger told him she saw the “driver of the pickup looking down and thought he may have been passed out.”

At the time of interview, the witnesses did not know  it was a DUI investigation, Luna said. 

A data recorder in the truck captured information during the last five seconds leading up to the crash indicating that its speed fluctuated from 56 to 58 mph and a brake had not been applied, Luna said. It also showed that the pressure on the accelerator was only slightly being released, which is what he has commonly come across in crashes where the driver has passed out or become unconscious, Luna said.

Mann was taken to Sutter Coast Hospital, where he was being prepared to be flown to another hospital when Luna made contact with him. Mann smelled of alcohol while talking, Luna said.

“His eyes at that point were red and watery and his speech was slow,” said Luna. “He said earlier that night he had two beers.”

Luna said Mann told him he began drinking at 5 p.m. and stopped at 8 p.m.

Mann refused numerous requests to submit to a field sobriety test and breathalyzer tests before he was placed under arrest, Luna said. Mann was then forced to take a blood test, Luna said.

“He stated go ahead and take it but note I am refusing this chemical test,” said Luna.

Mann registered a .2 blood-alcohol level about two hours after the crash, Luna testified.

Mann also insisted it was Jones who had hit him, but had written a letter recanting that statement after he read the police report, Luna said.

Judge Schafer ruled Mann could remain free on his own recognizance under the condition he refrain from driving as well as drinking alcohol.

Mann is set for arraignment today.

Reach Anthony Skeens at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 


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