A Denham Springs man was allegedly intoxicated and driving nearly 90 mph when his pickup slammed into a compact car on Greenwell Springs Road in 2011, killing the car’s 16-year-old driver, two Louisiana State Police officials testified Wednesday.
James T. Watts III, 32, is standing trial on a charge of vehicular homicide in the Sept. 9, 2011, death of Phillip Abington, of Greenwell Springs.
Abington was scheduled to make his Theatre Baton Rouge debut that night as one of the cowboys in the musical “Crazy for You.”
That night’s opening show was cut short and canceled when theater officials learned of his death.
Watts faces a sentence of five to 30 years in prison if convicted as charged.
A six-person East Baton Rouge Parish jury is expected to begin its closed-door deliberations Thursday. The prosecution and defense rested their cases Wednesday.
Senior Trooper Kevin Biddy testified that the airplane-like “black box” inside Watts’ 2005 Chevrolet Silverado indicated the truck was traveling 87 mph five seconds before the crash, 90 mph four seconds prior to the crash, 93 mph three seconds before the crash, 95 mph two seconds prior to the crash, and 84 mph one second before impact.
The posted speed limit is 45 mph on that stretch of Greenwell Springs Road.
Biddy said the truck’s brakes were not activated until one second before the crash.
State Police officials have said previously that Abington was turning left onto Greenwell Springs Road from Will Avenue in a 2001 Honda Civic when he was struck by Watts’ truck.
Watts’ attorneys, David Bourland and John Calmes, contend Abington failed to yield the right of way to Watts. They also claim alcohol was not a contributing factor to Abington’s death.
Calmes challenged Biddy’s testimony, saying modifications to a vehicle, such as a change in tire size, can affect the vehicle speed measured by the crash data recorder. Bourland said the defense does not concede that the information on the crash data report is accurate.
Biddy also testified he was present when a sample of Watts’ blood was taken at Lane Memorial Medical Center two hours after the crash.
“I believe there was a very slight odor” of alcohol on Watts, the trooper said while being questioned by prosecutor John Russell.
Robert Spinks, a State Police Crime Laboratory toxicologist, testified that an analysis of
the blood revealed a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.09 percent.
A blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving in Louisiana for those 21 and over.
Calmes noted that it can take up to two hours for alcohol to enter a person’s bloodstream, thereby delaying any intoxicating effects for that period of time.
Nicole Jagers, an East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services paramedic, testified she attended to Watts at the crash scene and wrote in her report that she observed no apparent alcohol or drug use. She said Watts also denied using alcohol or drugs that day.