Judge rules against prosecutors in fatal ATV accident case

Garrett John Taylor
Garrett John Taylor

A jury will not hear incriminating statements a defendant allegedly made after a fatal ATV accident, a judge ruled Tuesday, because the statements were made as he was drifting in and out of consciousness shortly after suffering a serious head injury.

Jury selection begins Wednesday in the trial of Cambria resident Garrett John Taylor, 30, who is charged with vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence and unlawful taking of a vehicle, both felonies.

The prosecution alleges that Taylor was drunk on July 15, 2012 when he offered a ride to Justin Evans, 20, on an all-terrain vehicle after they had attended a birthday party near San Simeon Creek.

With no witnesses to the accident, the prosecution’s case will rely on accident reconstructions and DNA evidence. While the prosecution believes the evidence will show Taylor drove the ATV, a a defense motion argued in court Tuesday claims there is no physical evidence to suggest Taylor drove the ATV, which eventually collided with a tree.

“(Taylor) was unconscious but alive and alongside the Gator at the passenger side,” read the motion, filed by attorney Mitchell Haddad. “His foot was resting on the passenger floorboard.”

Evans, who had been thrown from the vehicle, was pronounced dead at the scene. Taylor suffered a concussion, a severe laceration to his scalp and a fractured spine.

Deputy District Attorney Lee Cunningham said that while Taylor was at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, he made statements to investigators that suggested he had been the driver, including, “Somebody woke me up and wanted me to give him a ride home.”

But Haddad said the statements should not have been admissible due to Taylor’s head injury. In his motion, Haddad wrote that Taylor appeared confused during his talk with police saying, “What accident?” When an officer asked Taylor how he obtained his injuries, Haddad wrote, Taylor answered, “Bad poker game.”

Harold Segal, a neurologist who treated Taylor the day of the accident, said Taylor had a variety of symptoms and a serious head injury.

Any answer he might have given police, who interviewed him 30-40 minutes after he entered the emergency room, could have been “nonsense,” Segal testified. Taylor would not have been able to understand when police told him he had a right to not make statements, he said.

“He was going in and out of consciousness,” Segal said. “He wouldn’t be able to discern reality from fiction.”

At one point, according to Haddad, Taylor told police, “I’m freaking out here. You’re saying I just killed somebody, and I can’t remember.”

Taylor’s head injury symptoms included agitation, vomiting, intermittent consciousness, and bleeding, Segal testified. Cunningham suggested many symptoms were more related to Taylor’s intoxication.

Taylor’s blood alcohol level was determined to be .22 percent, according to a motion Cunningham filed in response to the defense.

Furthermore, Cunningham noted, Taylor’s CAT scan was normal; while he had a concussion, there was no skull fracture.

“Mr. Taylor was able to properly identify himself and to respond appropriately to simple medical-related questions in spite of his concussion and his highly intoxicated state,” Cunningham wrote.

However, based on Segal’s testimony, Cunningham agreed to concede that statements Taylor made in the emergency room will not be admitted in court.

Taylor’s criminal trial begins Wednesday. He also faces a wrongful death civil suit, which was filed by Evans’ parents in July. According to the suit, Taylor had a prior conviction for alcohol-related reckless driving.

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