Sorting out the details

Taplin's attorney challenges fine points of witnesses' accounts

Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2000

KETCHIKAN - Joel Taplin's defense attorney spent Friday chipping away at prosecution witnesses, questioning everything from a police officer's training to whether a Juneau restaurant should be characterized as a lounge.

Taplin, 27, is being tried in Ketchikan District Court for manslaughter and drunken driving charges after his Volkswagen Jetta fatally struck biologist Richard Carlson July 21 on Back Loop Road. Defense attorney Louis Menendez is contending Taplin was in shock, not intoxicated.

Friday's witnesses included a woman who said Taplin who made her ``uneasy'' by discussing marriage at the accident scene and a banker who said a restaurant bill of more than $30 was posted to the defendant's debit card shortly before the crash. Two Juneau Police Department officers also testified about field sobriety tests given to Taplin.

One of the first people at the accident scene was Kiley Jackson, 23, a telecommunications specialist with the U.S. Coast Guard. She testified she saw Carlson pull his car to the side of the road and heard the crash a minute or so later. She was dialing 411 to report a hit-and-run when she noticed Carlson's hat and shoes in the road, and ran to the scene.

``I kneeled down. I took his pulse and knew he was breathing. I talked to him and brushed the hair out of his face and told him he would be OK,'' Jackson said.

After paramedics arrived, Jackson said she was asked to ``stay and talk to Mr. Taplin, just talk to him and keep him company.'' Taplin got into a police car. Jackson stood beside the partially open window talking to him. She held his hand and they said a prayer.

``He said `I hope they don't find anything in there that should not be in there. My friends borrow my car and I don't know what they put in there''' Jackson said.

She found it ``abnormal'' when Taplin began rubbing her arms and talking about marrying her. ``That made me feel uneasy,'' Jackson said, ``and shortly after that point I left.''

Menendez asked Jackson why she had not mentioned this detail to his investigator and why she did not agree to a full interview with him. She said her father advised against her talking to the defense.

A dispute about a restaurant bill, and the nature of the eatery itself, arose in subsequent testimony.

Amy Madson, a bank investigator with the Bank of Boston, said Taplin's debit card was authorized to make a purchase of $35.10 at Tabby's Restaurant & Dreamland Lounge about 50 minutes before the crash. Menendez contended the actual amount charged was $32.25.

Menendez also disputed Juneau Police Department Officer Jeff Brink, who described the establishment as a restaurant and lounge. The defense attorney compared it to Denny's and characterized Tabby's as a family breakfast place.

Brink testified at length about field sobriety tests he administered to Taplin at the accident scene. Menendez tried to discredit him by questioning courses he took at the Sitka Academy and suggesting his ability to estimate distances was faulty. At one point Menendez repeatedly suggested Brink had positioned Taplin so that bright police lights and an emergency vehicle light bar caused his eyes to jerk, thus invalidating one field test. The attorney also suggested Brink failed to ascertain if Taplin needs eyeglasses.

Menendez asked if Brink had ever heard of the flight or fight syndrome.

``The role of anxiety is a very big component in someone's ability to take a test,'' Menendez said. ``If I had just gone through what Mr. Taplin has gone through and you were standing there watching me, isn't it true I would tend to fail?''

Juneau District Attorney Rick Svobodny provided Brink with a transcript of his recorded conversation with Taplin. When Brink asked Taplin if he had any eye problems, Taplin's answer was ``I don't think so.''

Officer Benjamin Coronell, testified Taplin's eyes were ``red and watery,'' and he swayed during the one-leg balance test. Coronell was asked why he stopped Brink from charging Taplin with driving while intoxicated.

``I told him to hold off from arresting Taplin for (that) to see what the District Attorney wanted (the charge) to be,'' Coronell replied.

``My concern was that (Taplin) had seriously hurt somebody, and we were looking at a more serious charge.''

The trial is in recess until Monday and is expected to last throughout this week.

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