Evidence shows Cambria man was driving in fatal ATV crash, prosecutor says

Garrett John Taylor
Garrett John Taylor

While no one saw Garrett Taylor driving the ATV that was involved in a fatal crash two years ago, the location of blood and bodies immediately after the crash will show that Taylor was behind the wheel of the vehicle when it hit a tree, killing 20-year-old Justin Evans, a prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.

But Taylor’s attorney will present his own accident reconstruction expert in an attempt to disprove the prosecution’s claim.

“No physical evidence has been collected or found which conclusively shows which of the two persons was the driver,” attorney Mitch Haddad wrote in a motion last month.

Taylor, 30, of Cambria, is charged with vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence and unlawful taking of a vehicle, both felonies. During his opening statement Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Lee Cunningham said no one saw Taylor and Evans leave a party in Cambria the night of July 14, 2012, in a Yamaha Rhino ATV, which belonged to the people throwing the party. But sometime before 4 a.m. Cambria residents Mark Epstein and his wife came across the accident scene.

Taylor was still inside the vehicle, Epstein testified, while Evans lay on the ground about eight to 10 feet away. Epstein said he approached Evans first.

“I put my ear and my head on his chest and listened for a heartbeat or breathing,” he said.

After concluding that Evans was dead, he and his wife turned to Taylor, who was unconscious with vomit on his face and blood on the top of his head.

Epstein said Taylor was lying across the seat of the ATV, with his feet on the driver’s side and his head hanging outside the passenger side. Fearing Taylor might choke on his vomit, Epstein testified, he and his wife moved Taylor. As a result, police couldn’t photograph Taylor’s position after the accident.

While accident reconstruction experts will offer different conclusions, Cunningham told the jury that DNA tests will show that Taylor’s blood was on the driver’s side of the ATV while Evans’ blood was on the passenger side.

“Mr. Taylor drove the Rhino off the road, into a tree,” he said.

Taylor’s blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was estimated to be 0.20 percent, making him “65 times more likely to be involved in a crash than a sober person,” Cunningham said.

During a hearing last week, Haddad said Taylor, who suffered a concussion and fractured spine during the accident, is not expected to testify.