Details unfold regarding what led up to fatal collision
A glimpse of events leading up to a car crash Dec. 21, 2012, that killed a Klamath man played out in the first day of testimony in the trial of former Crescent Elk Middle School assistant principal Coulter Mann.
On Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Todd Zocchi and defense attorney Dain Weiner delivered their opening statements.
Mann, Crescent Elk’s assistant principal at the time of the wreck, faces charges of driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury with an enhancement of great bodily injury, driving at or above 0.08 blood-alcohol content (BAC) causing injury with two enhancements of excessive BAC and great bodily injury, and failure to drive on the traveled portion of the roadway.
A couple of details were agreed upon: Mann drank alcohol at a colleague’s house prior to getting into his pickup to head home, and Mann is responsible for the collision that killed 67-year-old Kenneth G. Jones after Mann’s truck slammed head-on into Jones’ hatchback.
And that’s about it.
Zocchi kept it short and straightforward: Mann became intoxicated at a party, Mann got into his truck, Mann headed toward his home in Brookings, Mann drifted into oncoming traffic, striking Jones’ vehicle.
“This night he couldn’t make it eight miles before killing someone,” said Zocchi, who began his presentation zooming in on Mann’s BAC reading of .20, taken about 90 minutes after the crash.
“He destroyed Kenneth Jones’ vehicle. He destroyed Kenneth Jones’ life.”
Weiner stretched out his opening statement, noting how Mann had hurt his back the morning before Dec. 21 while he was carrying his sickly dog out to the yard to relieve itself. Mann returned to work that Friday, but he still wasn’t feeling well. After work, Mann was originally going to head to Redding with his wife and infant child to visit family, but delayed the trip because of driving conditions, Weiner said. Instead, Mann decided to head to Crescent Elk Principal Bill Hartwick’s house, where he had five to six beers, including at least two with 8.8% alcohol content, and a “sip” of whiskey over a four-hour period, Weiner said.
“Evidence will show he was not impaired at the time of the accident,” said Weiner.
He said a paid expert will testify how certain factors such as food consumption, and pain and adrenaline caused by the crash, delayed Mann’s alcohol absorption.
Weiner said Mann’s cell phone records will show he was checking his phone as he drifted into the southbound lane and was not slumped over, as the prosecution claims.
Testimony delivered by Jones’ loved ones shed light on the final hours before his death.
Jones drove up from Klamath, dropping off his partner at a friend’s house and stopping at his daughter’s house in Crescent City that Friday.
“He just came for a visit,” said Kendra Jones, adding they were exchanging Christmas gifts. “He was headed to a poker tournament at Lucky 7 Casino.”
That was the last time she saw her father alive.
Luella Jones was waiting for Kenneth Jones to pick her up, but he never arrived.
“He called me at 8:45 p.m. and told me he was done with the tournament and was on his way,” said Luella Jones.
The phone call came about 10 minutes before the wreck.
Meanwhile, Mann was headed toward Brookings after wrapping up a night of socializing and drinking with his friends and colleagues at Hartwick’s house on Turnbull Lane.
Mann had arrived at the party about 4:30 p.m., 45 minutes before district Superintendent Don Olson.
“I was there about 45 minutes,” testified Olson.
It was enough time to have a conversation with Mann, who was drinking beer poured from a keg into a plastic cup. Olson stated Mann did not show any signs of being drunk at the time.
Hartwick testified he was only aware of wine and a beer keg at the party.
“It was a little gathering at my house, a couple of hors d’oeuvres, a couple of glasses of wine, nothing out of the ordinary,” said Hartwick.
He said Mann seemed tired, but not intoxicated.
Zocchi asked Hartwick why he hadn’t cooperated with the District Attorney’s Office during the investigation. Hartwick said he was concerned about civil liability in the case.
Around 8:30 p.m. Mann got into his truck and began the trek north on U.S. Highway 101 toward his Brookings home.
At 8:54 p.m., Mann’s truck went into the southbound lane, narrowly missing another truck, which swerved out of the way, before hitting Jones’ car.
‘I hear two beers a lot’
Witness testimony from people who were travelling south on the highway described the crash. A passenger in the vehicle behind Jones’ saw the truck drift into the lane and collide with Jones’ car, causing both to spin.
A passenger in the truck that narrowly escaped a collision with Mann’s truck saw a brief explosion.
Photos of the scene show a crumpled two-door Ford Focus, its front smashed into the driver’s side. The front of Mann’s truck was smashed-in, trapping him and breaking bones in his left leg.
After an hour of waiting, Luella Jones said she got worried and began calling Kenneth repeatedly.
“At first it rang and rang,” she said. “Then it went to voice mail.”
She then called the California Highway Patrol and Sutter Coast Hospital repeatedly, seeking any information on Kenneth.
She called the casino and spoke with card dealer Merlin Goodlin. Goodlin testified he paged Kenneth over the intercom and sent two employees through the casino to look for him.
“I had some customers come in saying there was a car accident and after that I got the phone call,” said Goodlin. “I started putting two and two together in my mind, but I didn’t say anything.”
It was around that time Mann arrived at Sutter Coast Hospital, after emergency responders spent about 30 minutes extricating him from his truck.
Dr. Sandra Saunders treated Mann and was the first person to note an odor of alochol emanating from him. She also testified he was not slurring his words nor showing any other signs of intoxication. However, a blood test showed he had a BAC of .20.
Mann eventually indicated he had two beers prior to the accident, a common answer Saunders receives from patients.
“I hear two beers a lot,” said Saunders. “I’ve just come to realize the size of beers vary dramatically in Del Norte County.”
She described Mann’s temperment toward hospital staff and a California Highway Patrol officer as starkly different.
He was “polite” and “cooperative” with her, as opposed to when an officer “arrived and explained that he wanted to do a sobriety test and this argument ensued,” said Saunders. “It just kept going on and on and on.”
Saunders said she always tries to step back a little to allow law officers to perform their duties, but the argument went on long enough that she had to interrupt to continue treatment of Mann, who finally relented to a blood test.
Saunders will continue her testimony today at 9 a.m. as the second day of witnesses begins in Mann’s trial.