Local News

Former county commissioner appeared intoxicated, witness says

VERO BEACH - A former Highlands County Commissioner being tried on a charge of boating manslaughter appeared to be intoxicated sometime after the accident that killed his wife, a witness testified Wednesday. Kevin Hansen, an investigator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service, testified that Jeff Carlson had slurred speech, bloodshot eyes and that his breath smelled of alcohol. Hansen's testimony came during the second day of the trial in Indian River County Circuit Court. Authorities arrested Carlson after the July 24, 2010, accident near Captain Hiram's resort in Sebastian. Authorities alleged that while intoxicated he operated the boat and hit a navigational marker, resulting in fatal injuries to his wife, Julie.
Carlson, however, has denied the charges and his attorneys questioned whether the evidence supported them. During Hansen's testimony, prosecutors had him describe a blood testing kit. But Hansen could not readily explain why the original kit was destroyed after blood from it was tested. He was not asked whether it was normal procedure to destroy the kits. Hansen also said that he felt Carlson was intoxicated, although he never gave Carlson field sobriety tests. "They are not required under the circumstances," he said. In cases that involve death or serious injuries, the procedure is only to do blood tests, he said. Ruth Vacha, a senior crime laboratory analyst, testified that she received two vials of blood, but only tested one. She analyzed two samples from that blood and found that both had a blood/alcohol level of .076, which is below the legal limit of .80. The blood was apparently taken some time after the accident, but no one explained in testimony how Carlson could be charged with the test result being below the legal limit. Vacha said at that level a person's inhibitions would be lowered and that there judgment might be affected. Defense attorneys appeared to be questioning the testing, pointing to a case in 1999 where a sample previously determined to have no alcohol tested positive for it. However, Vacha said the testing is different now and insisted that the process is verified. Others testified it would have been dangerous for Carlson to have operated the boat during the night without a spotlight. Through other testimony, the all-female jury saw numerous photos of the boat and of the damage to the exterior and the interior. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834