Judge allows jury to consider Davis' history of DWI convictions
June 9, 2009 - 1:40 PM
Charla Davis' blood-alcohol level may have been twice the driving limit when she smashed into a vehicle's door and ran down three people last August, a scientist testified Tuesday.
Paul L. Glover, research scientist and head of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services' alcohol testing branch, projected Davis had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 or greater at the time of the hit-and-run wreck on a Belmont bridge. Tractor-trailer driver Ronnie Gene Eudy, 40, who had stopped to help an ailing motorist, was killed, and two others were injured.
Glover used a process known as retrograde extrapolation to estimate Davis' alcohol concentration. Belmont Police Lt. Richard Spry testified that he smelled alcohol on Davis' breath when she arrived at the police station for an interview at 10:14 a.m. the morning after the wreck.
Using an estimated blood-alcohol level of 0.02 - the lowest concentration a human nose can detect - and the amount of alcohol an average person metabolizes in an hour, Glover determined that Davis' BAC would have been 0.18 at about 10 hours earlier.
"We see higher elimination rates in individuals with experience with alcohol," Glover said.
Police did not administer a blood or breath alcohol test to Davis the day after the wreck. A blood sample was taken five days later and tested negative for alcohol and illegal drugs; Spry said alcohol would only be detectable within 48 hours after the alleged drunken driving.
Davis' attorney, Gus Anthony, objected to admitting Glover's testimony because the projected blood-alcohol level is based on the assumption that Davis consumed no alcohol between the time of the wreck and her interview with police.
"I would argue that this is not an acceptable scientific method," Anthony said.
Glover has testified as an expert witness in roughly 240 North Carolina trials, but has never before performed retrograde extrapolation without having a starting blood-alcohol level verified by blood or breath tests, he admitted on the witness stand. Anthony and District Attorney Locke Bell questioned Glover briefly outside the jury's presence.
Judge Richard Boner overruled Anthony's objections and allowed Glover to testify.
"I'm going to rule it's admissible," Boner said. "It will be for the jury to determine the weight, if any, to be given to the expert's opinion."
Bell said in his opening statement that Davis was drinking at Tony's, a bar in Mecklenburg County several miles away from the Wilkinson Boulevard bridge where the crash happened, on the night of Aug. 7. Thus far in the trial, no one has testified that Davis had consumed alcohol before the wreck.
Davis told police that friend Laura Mayner, whose home she stayed in after the wreck, gave her vodka. During Tuesday afternoon court testimony, Mayner said she didn't recall giving the woman any alcoholic beverages, but the vodka was kept in the kitchen where Davis could access it.
Mayner said she was drunk and some events were "fuzzy," but she clearly remembers meeting Davis and letting her stay in her Mount Holly home. Mayner dropped Davis off on Sam Wilson Road in Mecklenburg County the next morning. Davis had another friend drive her to the Belmont Police Department.
Jurors will be allowed to consider Davis' three driving while impaired convictions from more than 17 years ago after Boner ruled to admit much of her driving record into evidence.
Bell sought to introduce Davis' record from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, but Anthony objected to including DWI convictions from January 1989 and April and August 1990 because of their age, which he said made them "not temporally related."
Boner reviewed case law on admissibility of DWI convictions and ruled that the jury could review all four convictions - including one from May 27, 2006. However, he instructed jurors to consider them only to decide whether to convict Davis of second-degree murder, which requires prosecutors to prove malice.
"You may consider this driving record only for the purpose of determining whether or not this driving record shows the presence of malice," he said.
Boner ordered traffic infractions prior to 1989 redacted from Davis' record before it is presented to the jury.
Testimony continued Tuesday in the state's case against the 45-year-old Davis. Three Belmont police officers and two Gaston Emergency Medical Services paramedics shared their recollections of the scene.
"I remember it being complete chaos," said Officer Kevin Wingate. "The bridge was completely shut down. There were emergency vehicles from one end to the other."
You can reach Corey Friedman at 740-334-4256.