Local News

Experts testify in trial

VERO BEACH - Jurors in the criminal trial of a former Highlands County commissioner listened to testimony Thursday from experts for both the defense and the prosecution. On the prosecution side, one expert concluded that Jeff Carlson, the former commissioner who is facing charges involving boating manslaughter and recklessness, was reckless. However, two experts for the defense questioned the validity of key evidence in the case involving the accident and whether Carlson was intoxicated at the time of the accident. It was the third day of testimony in the trial of Carlson, who was charged in connection with a boating accident on July 24, 2010, that left Julie Carlson, his wife, dead after the boat hit a navigational marker.
The trial was set to continue today. Alan Richard, a retired captain with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, testified that Carlson's operation was reckless because they failed to have a spotlight on the boat, or a person serving as a lookout for obstructions in the water. Richard said the positioning of a GPS unit would have affected Jeff Carlson's night vision, necessitating the need for the lookout. He also said the boat should have been operated at a slow speed in the area near Capt. Hiram's resort in Sebastian. Carlson's operation of the boat "shows a complete disregard for safety," he said. The defense questioned whether the evidence supported that conclusion. On the defense side, Donald Fournier, an engineer, questioned whether information downloaded from the GPS unit on the boat by another engineer for authorities was usable to provide information about the location of the accident. He said the other engineer did not provide proper safeguards to make sure he got all the data. "It (the data from the GPS) is not forensically acceptable or reliable," Fournier said. Fournier said he charged the defense $320 per hour for his testimony in the case. Attacking prosecution evidence from another angle, Dr. Stefan Rose questioned blood testing results that showed Carlson's blood-alcohol level was .076 some three hours after the accident. Another prosecution witness had also testified late Wednesday that his blood-alcohol level would have been .12 at the time of the accident. "The blood sampling had some problems and the blood sample is not reliable," he said. Rose said he believed that bacteria entering the blood stream from other parts of the body would have caused fermentation, thereby increasing the blood alcohol level. Because of that, he said, "We cannot tell where the ethanol came from. It's not reliable." Rose said he believed that were it not for the fermentation, Carlson's blood alcohol level would have been .05 at the time the samples were taken. Under questioning from the prosecution, Rose conceded he was not board-certified in any specialty in medicine. Prosecutors attempted to question him whether his testimony had been disallowed in some courts, but they weren't permitted to do so. He also testified that he generally testifies for the defense, but insisted he's an advocate for good forensics rather than the defense. Prosecutors pointed out that he operates a special website for defense attorneys. Jurors also heard testimony that the test kit used to test the blood for alcohol content was mistakenly destroyed after being returned from the crime lab to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Samples had been tested by the crime lab. Witnesses testified that apparently the number on the test kit was close to the number on a kit that was slated for destruction because the criminal case in which it was used as evidence had been completed. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834