Car in fatal CHP crash modified for fast acceleration, witness says

The car driven by the Paso Robles woman accused of causing the crash that killed a CHP officer last summer was modified to improve its performance, a vehicle investigator with the agency testified Tuesday.

Kaylee Ann Weisenberg’s 2004 Toyota Corolla had a hole cut into its intake chamber, CHP vehicle inspector Dean Linnens testified in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. Letting in more airflow would enable faster acceleration, he said.

And because the car had its suspension lowered, it would have improved handling on turns, he added.

Through Linnens’ testimony, prosecutors sought to paint a picture of a reckless driver who wanted to go fast.

“The more airflow, the higher the performance,” Linnens said during questioning by Stephen Wagner, a Monterey County prosecutor specializing in vehicle-related crimes who is assisting the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office. “You have the ability to go faster.”

Weisenberg has pleaded not guilty to charges including second-degree murder and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in a crash that killed 20-year CHP Officer Brett Oswald on South River Road near Paso Robles on June 27, 2010.

Prosecutors allege she was driving 80 mph in a 55 mph zone while high on methamphetamine. Her lawyers dispute that she was under the influence and question her estimated speed.

Defense attorney Thomas McCormick countered with questions to find out if the engine or the car’s computer had been doctored to boost horsepower.

Neither had been altered, said Linnens, acknowledging those improvements could have altered the car’s performance at a much higher level than the changes that were made to Weisenberg’s vehicle.

“We’re not talking about super horsepower here, correct?” McCormick asked. “We’re not talking about a performance vehicle like a Porsche, Corvette or Ferrari?”

Linnens acknowledged those cars have more horsepower than a Corolla.

After McCormick implied someone else could have made the modifications to the car, the CHP vehicle investigator also said he found out the car had been stolen from Weisenberg, and she later recovered it.

Prosecutors also presented images to the jury of a severely cracked windshield on Weisenberg’s car from the impact of Oswald’s body.

The trial resumes today at 9:30 a.m. before Judge John Trice, with possible testimony on the accident’s reconstruction by an investigator.

One issue Monday in opening statements was whether Oswald was standing in a dangerous place in the road while dealing with a car left on the side of the road before Weisenberg came along.

McCormick said in his opening statements that Oswald was standing in “the middle of the road” texting. But an eyewitness that day, Christine Miller of Paso Robles, testified Monday that she saw Weisenberg’s car hit Oswald’s patrol car — which was damaged — before striking him, adding the Toyota was going “too fast.”