Experts testify in Fairbanks DUI manslaughter trial

Posted: Friday, May 29, 2009

FAIRBANKS - Traffic accident experts gave conflicting opinions in the trial of a Fairbanks woman charged with manslaughter.

Jessica Paul, 21, is accused of driving drunk in August and striking 4-year-old Phillip Lara. He died about a month later.

Paul's attorney has said bright conditions made it impossible for her to see the boy and his Big Wheel tricycle in the street.

In a recording of Paul's 911 call moments after the accident, which was played for jurors Wednesday, Paul mentioned drinking but also said bright conditions contributed to the accident.

"The sun was in my eye; I didn't see no kid," she said on the tape.

An accident reconstructionist for the prosecution, Jim Sterling, testified that the sun likely would have been shining directly in Paul's eyes at the time of the accident.

However, he said, a reasonable driver would have put on sunglasses, lowered the vehicle's visor or even pulled over to keep from being blinded.

"It's my opinion that based on where the vehicle was and statements made, the vehicle was driven quite a ways with the sun coming in before hitting the boy," he said.

Under cross examination, Sterling testified that it appeared as if the boy's Big Wheel was struck directly from behind as if he had been riding down the street before the accident.

A crash reeconstructionist called by the defense, Jay Smith, offered a different opinion. He said the child could have ridden the tricycle into the street seconds before being struck.

"It's just barely more than perception and response," Smith said.

Paul is charged with manslaughter, felony assault and misdemeanors that include driving under the influence of alcohol. If convicted of the most serious charges, the presumptive sentence likely would be between seven and 11 years in jail.



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