Whether Rachel Enderle was speeding, or not, or how attentive she was to her driving, doesn't really matter, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman told the jury in closing arguments of the Ronald J. Wendt manslaughter trial.
Wendt's conduct the night of Aug. 14, 2009 was a crucial link in a chain of events that led to a tragic accident. The jury need only find that without Wendt's conduct, the accident would never have occurred.
"If this defendant had not been drinking throughout the day, throughout the evening and throughout the night, Katie Stanley would still be alive," Friedman said. "If he hadn’t felt the need for one more beer and turned in front of that car, Katie Stanley would still be alive."
Defense attorney Thomas Burns argued forcefully in his closing remarks that the evidence does not support the charge that Wendt was driving drunk, nor that he should have reasonably concluded that by making that fateful left turn, an accident would have occurred.
The Sheriff's Office never investigated other factors in the crash, Burns argued, but immediately concluded that Wendt was at fault.
"So the singular focus is what I submit to you is what this trial is ultimately about," Burns said. "How else do we explain, for example, when we know that Mr. Fox said he was speeding, that he was not issued a traffic citation?
"When evidence suggests that Mr. Fox was directly behind Ms. Enderle and that she would have been speeding, there is no suggestion that she was issued a traffic citation in this case. How else do we explain resistance from police witnesses to common law evidence and how the Datamaster can be interpreted as to non-intoxication rather than simply intoxication?"
Wendt's BAC at the time of the accident may every well have been below .08, Burns argued, pointing out the rate of absorption possible would mean his last beer would have been hitting his system just about the time the test was administered.
Friedman, in his more than hour-long remarks, pointed out that absorption into Wendt's blood would have started when he took his first sip of that last beer, not when he finished it. Also, some of the alcohol in his system from his day of drinking would have been leaving his system at the same time.
Wendt's BAC at the time of the accident, Friedman said, could actually have been above .08.
Burns, also taking more than an hour to make his case, argued that the Datamaster is not reliable and like any machine, prone to error, but Friedman said breath tests go back to the 1950s and are standard tools for measuring BAC in criminal cases.
There's no evidence, Friedman said, that the Datamaster is any less reliable than a direct blood test. The results of the Datamaster are a person's actual BAC, not an estimate, as Burns had said, according to Friedman.
Burns also called into question the results of the field sobriety test given to Wendt by Deputy Tim Wescott at the scene. Burns was critical of the lack of consideration for any possible injuries Wendt might have suffered in the violent collision, that his fatigue was a factor and his heavy boots were a factor.
Also, Burns said, since the field test wasn't video recorded, the only record of Wendt's performance on the test was Wescott's memory.
Friedman countered that Wescott was an experienced law officer, that since his report also contained information on the parts of the test Wendt passed, and that by Wendt's own conduct and remarks prior to the test, Wescott's testimony was credible.
Friedman argued that the facts of the case clearly demonstrate that Wendt was intoxicated at the time of the crash and that even though he could clearly see a car right in front of him, he turned in front of it without stopping first and without using his turn signal.
"I would suggest to you that the defense has tried very hard to complicate a very straightforward case," Friedman said.
The jury is beginning deliberations this afternoon.
If convicted of all charges, the 25-year-old Wendt could face up to 25 years in prison.