Two sleep experts testified Monday morning, May 2, that a Bellingham driver had “pathological sleepiness” as the defense tried to convince a jury that a sleep disorder — not drowsy driving — led to a deadly crash near a Ferndale high school last year.
Since last week William Jeffrey Klein, 35, has been on trial on charges of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.
Both sides agree he fell asleep at the wheel on the afternoon of June 10, 2015, and his black Toyota 4Runner ran into four Windward High School boys on the sidewalk.
Both sides agree the crash was tragic. Two boys, Shane Ormiston, 18, and Gabriel Anderson, 15, were killed. Two others were seriously hurt.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
The prosecutor and the defense have differing theories, however, about why Klein fell asleep.
On Monday the defense called Dr. Donald Berry to the stand. Berry, a PeaceHealth medical doctor with expertise in sleep disorders, testified about sleep tests he ran on Klein months after the crash. Klein came in to the sleep lab drowsy, as instructed, and in a dark, quiet room he was hooked up to machines to measure his brain waves, his breathing and other diagnostics.
One test showed Klein, who has obstructive sleep apnea, woke up about 23 times per hour. In a second test he woke up more than 30 times an hour.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the throat muscles relax and cut off breathing. The body wakes up, as a kind of survival instinct to keep breathing, and while the sleeper likely doesn’t remember that, it can leave him or her without a good night’s sleep, according to the expert testimony.
In another round of tests, Klein was asked to take naps. On average it took him a little over five minutes to fall asleep. An average under eight minutes, Berry said, is considered “pathological sleepiness.”
“Were you concerned about him driving?” asked the defense attorney, Michael Brodsky.
“Absolutely,” Berry said.
Klein hasn’t been allowed to drive since the crash.
Another sleep expert for the defense, Mark Pressman, said that often when people have the same disorders as Klein, it leads them to lose their frame of reference. They believe they are alert, when really their bodies need sleep, Pressman said.
“What’s most important is uninterrupted sleep,” he said. “What sleep apnea does is it robs you of that.”
Brodsky, the defense attorney, argues Klein wasn’t aware of how tired he was as he drove. That has become the central point of contention in the trial.
Prosecutor Dave McEachran played a tape for the jury last week, in which Klein told a detective it was normal for him to get four or so hours of sleep a night, as he got ready for his 4 a.m. to noon shift at Trader Joe’s.
In the week before the crash Klein missed days of work with the flu. He was on his second day back on June 10. One of his coworkers testified that Klein seemed sluggish that morning. Two supervisors and a close friend said they noticed nothing wrong with him.
About 1 ½ hours after leaving work, Klein crashed. His son, 3, was in the Toyota with him.
One other witness testified Monday afternoon: Dave Wells, a former crash scene investigator with the King County Sheriff’s Office. He calculated the speed of the Toyota at 32 to 34 mph at the point it hit the curb on Smith, west of Graveline Road, in line with the state patrol’s estimate of 30 to 37 mph.
Seven seconds later the 4Runner came to a stop on the sidewalk, east of Graveline, according to Wells.
So far in all three days of the trial, family and friends of Klein, Ormiston and Anderson have come close to filling the gallery in Judge Ira Uhrig’s courtroom.
The defense is expected to wrap up its case Tuesday. In court Brodsky said he had three more witnesses to call.