Crime

Defense witnesses testify for Everson driver on trial for death of motorcyclist

Jason Schuyleman, of Everson, on the motorcycle he was riding the night he was killed in a collision in December 2014. He was 38.
Jason Schuyleman, of Everson, on the motorcycle he was riding the night he was killed in a collision in December 2014. He was 38. Courtesy to the Bellingham Herald

An Everson man on trial for vehicular homicide will testify about the crash that killed a motorcyclist in December 2014, his attorney told jurors as the defense made opening statements last week.

On the day of the crash Brian Jeffery Smith, 33, an oil refinery worker and father of five, went to a BP company Christmas party around 4 p.m., defense attorney Mark Kaiman told jurors.

The party ended at a reasonable hour, Kaiman said, and afterward Smith met up with family at the Rusty Wagon, a restaurant on Hannegan Road. (He was not served drinks there).

Smith was driving east on Kale Street in his white Chevy Suburban around 8:50 p.m. when he turned left to his neighborhood on Christopher Lane. He crashed nearly head-on with a Honda motorcycle headed west.

Jason Lyle “Bone” Schuyleman, 38, a steelworker, died in surgery at St. Joseph hospital that night, Dec. 5, 2014.

Over the first four days of trial the prosecution called to the stand Everson police, state troopers, the county medical examiner, and witnesses of the crash’s aftermath, before resting Wednesday morning.

Many of those testified about what they saw at the hospital, when Smith refused to let medical staff draw his blood by flailing his arm, as he said he had a fear of needles, that it was against his religion to give blood, and, when a doctor suggested giving him a sedative, that it would cause cardiac arrest.

Smith was sedated nonetheless, and his blood was drawn about 4½ hours after the crash. His blood-alcohol content tested at 0.05, below the legal limit. Given the generally accepted burn-off rate of about 0.015 percent per hour, however, it would have been as high as 0.12 at the time of the crash, witnesses said.

Last week an expert witness for the defense, retired toxicology lab supervisor David Predmore, called into question whether that was a reliable estimate.

“The longer the time is, the more prone to error it will be,” Predmore said.

“How far back are you comfortable going?” asked defense attorney Jonathan Rands.

“With no inaccuracy?” he asked. “The time of the test is the only thing you know for sure.”

Predmore acknowledged that retrograde extrapolation, i.e., the burn-off rate, generally is accepted in the scientific community.

So far the defense has called three other witnesses:

▪ Thomas Missel, an expert in field sobriety tests, who testified that ideally Smith should have been checked for a concussion after his airbag went off.

▪ Dave Wells, a forensic crash reconstruction expert, examined the motorcycle after the crash. He testified, as did a state trooper, that the headlamp on the motorcycle flickered on and off at times when it was tested.

“It’s possible,” Wells said, “that it was in an on-off situation at the time of the crash.”

The headlight was designed to go on automatically when the bike was on. Earlier a state trooper testified he was surprised the light worked at all with the damage it took.

▪ Carla Holcombe, the phlebotomist who tried to draw Smith’s blood. On the stand she said Smith was the one who suggested being put in restraints, telling her that was the only way they would be able to get his blood.

“There was no fight from Brian, the only fight was when the needle appeared,” Holcombe said.

Nurses, troopers, and a doctor testified Smith yanked his arms away, gave several false excuses, and fought back even when held down by the restraints. Holcombe wasn’t aware that a trooper had to press a Taser to Smith’s body to get him onto a hospital bed, or that Smith cited religion as a reason to refuse giving blood.

Smith has not been called to the stand yet. The trial will continue this week. Jurors have been asked to be available through the end of the month.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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