Jury begins deliberating in Everson vehicular homicide trial

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After seven days of trial, a jury began deliberating Tuesday to decide what caused a crash that killed an Everson motorcyclist.

Prosecutors argue the case is simple. It was alcohol. Brian Jeffery Smith, 33, had a blood-alcohol content above 0.08 percent when his white Chevrolet Suburban collided nearly head-on into a Honda motorcycle around 8:50 p.m. Dec. 5, 2014, according to the prosecution.

The crash killed Jason Lyle “Bone” Schuyleman. He was 38.

On Tuesday, in his closing argument to the six men and six women of the jury, defense attorney Mark Kaiman proposed alternate theories:

▪  A malfunctioning headlight on Schuyleman’s motorcycle made him invisible to Smith, as he turned the Suburban left from Kale Street to his neighborhood on Christopher Lane, Kaiman suggested. (Prosecutors showed jurors a crash scene photo where the headlight is on, alongside other glowing lights.) Both sides agree the headlight flickered off and on, when tested after the crash. A crash reconstruction expert for the defense, Dave Wells, testified it’s possible the light flickered off at the time of the crash, too. On the witness stand, Smith said he didn’t see the motorcycle.

▪  A “suicide clutch” – a gear-shifter that forces the rider to reach down to change gears – made it harder for Schuyleman to react to obstacles, and slowed his ability to avoid the turning Suburban, according to Kaiman.

▪  Smith wasn’t intoxicated, Kaiman said. Lab test results could have been skewed by mishandling of the blood samples. Smith testified he had one Budweiser that night in his wife’s car just before he drove 5½ miles to Everson. Two eyewitnesses in a car tailing his vehicle did not notice any swerving, drifting, or anything to suggest that Smith was driving drunk. They saw him apologizing to Schuyleman after the crash, and he did not seem drunk.

A Washington State Patrol trooper, however, thought otherwise. Smith failed a horizontal-gaze test, and he was arrested. Kaiman argued that based on the trooper’s testimony he assumed the defendant was guilty, and Smith had to prove himself innocent, rather than the other way around.

At the hospital Smith resisted a blood draw for hours. He yanked his arm away, had to be strapped down in a padded room, and even fought against restraints, according to hospital staff.

Smith resisted because of his fear of needles, he testified.

Smith resisted because he wanted to hide evidence that proved he was drunk, argued the chief criminal deputy prosecutor, Eric Richey.

To distract Smith from a needle that delivered a sedative, a trooper hit his leg several times with a metal baton.

“They took out a piece of metal and beat him with it,” Kaiman told the jury. “Did they seriously expect that beating would calm him down? After they beat him they had a doctor declare him psychotic and sedated him without his consent. Every single one of you should be offended by the brutality of those two acts.”

Smith’s blood was drawn 4½ hours after the crash. The sample tested at a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 percent. Given the standard alcohol burn-off rate of 0.015 percent per hour, he would have been above the legal limit at the time of the crash, according to expert witnesses for both sides.

However it’s still a guess, Kaiman said, and “it’s only accurate if every variable we’re dealing with is the average.”

In a rebuttal a deputy prosecutor, George Roche, reminded jurors that the defense’s own expert said Smith’s blood-alcohol could have been as high as 0.12. He told jurors, too, that the county medical examiner testified it’s “not medically possible” for Smith to have a 0.05 blood-alcohol content over 4 hours after drinking one beer.

Smith was charged with vehicular homicide and obstructing law enforcement. Jurors began deliberating at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb