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Doctor testifies in Bell case that victim's coma result of traumatic brain injury

Shane M. Bell

Scott Baker was hit hard enough the night of Aug. 25 that he suffered fractured bones in his face and a broken nose, a doctor testified today in the trial of Shane Bell in Genesee County Court.

Baker also hit his head on the pavement, which caused a small amount of bleeding in his brain.

The two traumas must be taken together said Dr. Gregory T. Bennett, clinical director of ECMC Neurology, as the cause of Baker's subsequent coma.

"We know it's all linked," Bennett said. "It's shock waves that go through the tissue."

When Baker arrived at ECMC, after being initially treated at UMMC, both hemispheres of his brain were "silent," Bennett said. "That is what causes a coma."

Bell is charged with felony assault. The jury is being asked to determine whether Bell intended to cause serious physical injury to Baker during an altercation outside the The Harvester bar on Harvester Avenue.

The 51-year-old Baker remains in nursing home care seven months after the incident. Bennett said it is impossible to predict whether he will ever recover. As a person over 30 years old, his chances of recovery from significant brain trauma are much less than it would be for a child.

"There is a significant risk that a person who is in a deep coma will never recover," Bennett said.

For the first week after the injury, there is significant risk of death, Bennett said.

When Baker was first admitted in the emergency room at UMMC, there was almost enough alcohol in his system to cause a coma. The level was 282 parts per deciliter. A person could potentially be in a coma at 300 parts per deciliter. A level between 150 and 250 could cause lethargy.

While Bennett said he didn't see the UMMC report when Baker was admitted to the trauma unit at ECMC, he said doctors knew he had been in a fight at night outside a bar, so it was assumed he had been drinking.

Since there's a risk associated with a brain pressure monitor, Bennett said doctors won't start the monitor on a person with a head injury who may have been drinking. Bennett said he decided to observe Baker for six hours to see if he would come out of the coma on his own before attaching the monitor.

Baker was still in a coma after an hour, so the monitor was attached.

There was no surgery that could be performed to deal with the brain trauma, Bennett said. His facial fracture was "non-displaced," meaning the bone would heal on its own without surgery. The broken nose did not require surgery, but splits were used to align the cartilage so it would heal correctly.

Bennett, during cross-examination, testified about the damage alcohol can do to the human brain.

"It's never therapeutic," Bennett said.

Even red wine's benefits for heart health is so minimal, that he never recommends it for a person with any level of heart disease. There are medications that are hundreds of times more effective in care.

Any amount of alcohol consumption over time cause damage to brain tissue. It causes atrophy.

A person who has brain atrophy from alcohol has even less of a chance of recovery from brain trauma, Bennett said.

Baker had no brain atrophy, Bennett said.

After Bennett's testimony, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said the prosecution rests its case.

With the jury out of the room, defense attorney William Tedford made a motion to dismiss the case, saying that the people had failed to prove Bell intended to cause serious physical injury to Baker and that there is sufficient evidence that Bell reacted in self defense when he hit Baker.

Friedman disagreed with both assertions.

"Mr. Tedford has just given his summation," Friedman said. "Those are issues for the jury to decide."

Judge Tom Moran, substituting for Robert Noonan, who is hearing a case in Monroe County, said he would reserve his decision.

The morning testimony came from defense witness Robert Tedford, a City of Batavia firefighter and medic, who treated Baker at the scene and rode in the ambulance with him to UMMC.

Robert Tedford is the older brother of attorney William Tedford.

Robert Tedford testified that when he arrived on scene, a black male was cradling Baker, crying, and saying, "I can't believe they did this to you. Hold on. Don't go to the light."

The man delayed the attempt by medics to begin treatment on Baker.

Robert Tedford testified that there was an odor of alcohol around Baker, which was particularly pronounced inside the ambulance. He also testified that just smelling an alcoholic beverage gives him no indication how much alcohol the patient might have consumed.

The second defense witness was Curtis Gallagher, who initially testified that Baker "tried to grab" Bell and that he touched Baker. Under cross-examination by Friedman, he admitted that in previous statements, he did not mention seeing, with certainty, Baker touch Bell.

"I couldn't tell if he touched him on his shoulder," Gallagher said. "He put his hands up like he was going to."

He also confirmed prior testimony that when Bell started to cross the street, he told Baker, "You better be coming over here to smoke a bowl with me or you're going to get knocked out."

During his direct testimony, Gallagher only said, "You better be coming over here to smoke a bowl," and tried to testify that he believed Bell was implying consequences if that wasn't the case.

More than once, Judge Moran needed to remind Gallagher not to inject his opinion into his testimony.

Gallagher initially testified that he heard Baker say he had a knife and was going to stab Bell, but under cross, Gallagher said he only heard Baker say he had a knife at home and that he would go get it.

During cross, Friedman asked numerous questions about Gallagher's prior criminal record, which includes two felony convictions for the sale of drugs.

After Gallagher's testimony, the defense rested.

Atfter the jury left the court room, the attorneys and the judge discussed jury instructions. Friedman argued that there wasn't sufficient evidence presented for the jury to be instructed on justification (self-defense). Tedford argued that it's a low standard for the defense and that the evidence should be considered in the light most favorable to the defense. Moran agreed with Tedford.

The attorneys will present closing arguments after lunch.

JT Hunt
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i worked with scott one summer about 10 years ago. the jury should also consider any possible past alcohol use history. good guy, sad to read what he got himself into

Christopher Putnam
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So the "victim" had almost drank himself into a coma. BEFORE he got punched! Seems to me like this "victim" has some issues with alcohol and it finally caught up with him. His behavior in perusing a confrontation is inexcusable. Bell felt threatened when he was followed, he warned the victim to leave him alone, the victim persisted in his drunk idiocy and got knocked the F out for it. Sounds like clear cut self defense to me.

JT Hunt
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I won't throw him under the bus, but I had to drive my work truck across Batavia to pick him up for work alot. One end of rt 5 to the other. At 8am! Made sure i got all those pocket-filling red lights. lol Again, I DID enjoy cracking a few brewskies with the man after work, great story teller. Just wish someone could have given him an intervention before this ex-Marine/MMA fighter in a black leotard did. Good God Sad

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