Not guilty in driving death retrial

There were contrasting scenes of emotion in the Grand Court Wednesday after Alexander Diaz, 22, was acquitted of causing death by dangerous driving over a 2006 car crash that killed his friend and passenger, Jonathon Michael Jones, 18.

Mr. Diaz broke down, heaving with sobs when the foreman read out the verdict, following almost four hours of jury deliberation. It was the second time Mr. Diaz had faced trial over the crash; a seven-day trial in November 2007 resulted in a hung jury and the Crown had elected to have the matter retried.

Members of Mr. Jones’ family were visibly distressed after the verdict; ‘Why?’ the deceased’s mother cried shortly after the court adjourned, and with Mr. Diaz and his family just meters away. ‘He killed my son; he killed my son.’

The jury’s not guilty verdict was a unanimous one despite Grand Court Justice Karl Harrison having earlier given them the option of reaching a majority verdict (of at least five to three) when, after over three hours, they had not been able to agree to a result.

The charge against Mr. Diaz stemmed from a fatal crash in the early hours of 13 August, 2006, on the Linford Pierson Highway. Mr. Diaz’s Honda Integra lost control heading east on the highway just after the Agnes Way junction, travelling across the opposite lane and colliding with a parked dump truck.

Mr. Diaz’s Honda and a Subaru driven by Crown witness Nikko Miller had been seen driving at high speeds along Bobby Thomson Way and again on the Linford Pierson Highway moments before the crash.

Crown witness Joel Francis testified that the two cars had been travelling 80mph or more and were accelerating when they passed him on Bobby Thompson Way. Another driver, Robert Whorms, said the two cars had been going 40 to 45mph and were accelerating when they overtook him moments later on the Linford Pierson Highway heading east.

Mr. Whorms said the two cars had then disappeared out of sight as they rounded a bend, leaving Nikko Miller as the only eyewitness to the crash.

Miller, who was 23 at the time, told the court Mr. Diaz’s car overtook him in the centre lane by the Agnes Way junction and was doing a speed in the low 90’s (mph). As Mr. Diaz’s car pulled ahead it had started to pull back into the left lane, he said, but then slid back toward the right, across the road and into the parked dump truck.

Miller pulled over and called 911 for assistance, giving a false first name but his correct phone number. He soon left the scene without giving any assistance, his explanation to the court was he didn’t cause the accident and once he knew an ambulance was on its way, felt he had done as much as he could do.

Miller’s evidence, as well as a claimed ‘confession’ from Mr. Diaz, formed key components of the Crown’s case during the eight-day trial, but Defence Attorney Scott Wilson described both as unreliable.

Mr. Francis stopped at the crash just moments after and heard moaning coming from the Honda. Mr. Diaz came out of the car, threw himself down on the curb and asked what had hit him, Mr. Francis said. Mr. Diaz looked shocked, dazed and was hysterical, he told the court.

Mr. Francis proceeded to the car, where he saw Mr. Jones pinned in the passenger’s seat; he had a bottle of beer in one hand, the other hand was holding the top of the door and his head was slumped over his right shoulder.

Another witness – fire-fighter Norman Joseph – said he saw beer bottles on the floor of the car and a ganja spliff in the centre console when he arrived at the scene.

Miller unreliable

Mr. Wilson told jurors Miller had ‘clearly and consistently lied about his involvement in the case,’ warning they could not rely on his evidence.

After police questioning, Miller admitted to, and was later convicted of, dangerous driving over his actions on Bobby Thompson Way, but said in court he had been driving at between 50 and 55mph and was decelerating when he was overtaken by the Honda near the Agnes Way junction.

‘I drove dangerously that night and I wanted to take responsibility for that but I have no problem with what I did that night and I did not want to be blamed for something I did not do,’ he told the court.

Mr. Wilson pointed out that Miller had given different speed estimates in the first trial, putting his own speed at 40 to 43mph and Mr. Diaz’s speed at between 80 to 90mph.

Mr. Wilson questioned why Miller had changed his speed estimates this time around: ‘What does Miller have to hide?’ he asked jurors. ‘Do you not think he is doing his level best to make sure Mr. Diaz is convicted?’

When first questioned by police about what happened that night, Miller accepted he had made no mention of the Honda overtaking him; he had lied about what vehicle he was driving and said he did not recall being at a club on the night of the crash.

Miller later agreed he had been at a club prior to the crash where he consumed some alcoholic drinks but denied alcohol played any part in him leaving the scene.

The owner of the Subaru told the court he had left the vehicle with Miller so he could carry out repairs on it but said he had not given him permission to drive the vehicle.

Miller had also given conflicting accounts at the two trials of the distance between the two cars when the Honda lost control, in the first trial putting the distance at 35 feet, but this time revising it to 25ft.

Chris Medwell, an accident reconstructionist called by the defence team, did calculation in court of Miller’s estimates and concluded that if he was correct about the distance between the two cars, he was wrong about the speed estimates; if he was right about the speed estimates he was wrong about the distance between the cars.

However Mr. Medwell was attacked by Crown Counsel Nicole Petite who described him as biased and only interested in presenting calculations that helped the defence case.

Confession

PC Tamara Jackson, the investigating officer in the case, said she found Mr. Diaz on the side of the road when she arrived at the scene. Mr. Diaz told her he was the driver of the vehicle and asked whether Mr. Jones was going to be OK. PC Jackson said paramedics were treating him, but when she heard the passenger had died, she cautioned then arrested Mr. Diaz for causing death by dangerous driving.

After cautioning Mr. Diaz, Ms Jackson asked him what happened: She said he replied that he had been coming from the club, was driving up the Linford Pierson Highway, he had put the car in gear but he was going too fast and lost control.

PC Jackson later made a note of the ‘confession’, but Mr. Wilson complained the officer had not made the note contemporaneously, had not asked Mr. Diaz to witness and sign the confession and did not make any mention of it during police interviews. In any event, Mr. Diaz had been described as shocked and hysterical when he spoke to PC Jackson, Mr. Wilson added.

However Ms Petite described PC Jackson’s note a very substantial piece of evidence. ‘People do say things when they are in a state of shock and [the Crown] would suggest this was exactly what happened.’

Asked why she had not recorded the claimed confession at the time it was made, nor mentioned it to Diaz in police interviews, Ms Jackson said she thought the evidence against Mr. Diaz was overwhelming and, in any event, ‘I would never believe that after [he] did what he did to his friend that he would deny it.’

Alcohol ‘within range’

While PC Jackson had recalled smelling alcohol on Mr. Diaz’s breath when she spoke to him, Justice Harrison warned jurors that a blood-alcohol test after the crash had shown Mr. Diaz was within the legal range for blood alcohol concentration and they could not make an adverse finding against Mr. Diaz on that point.

Mr. Diaz did not give evidence during the trial, Justice Harrison pointing out it was well within his right not to.

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