PORT ANGELES — A Port Angeles man, charged in a vehicle collision that left a friend paralyzed from the waist down and another friend’s neck broken, was not driving when his pickup smashed into a telephone pole on Ediz Hook, his lawyer said Monday on the first day of his bench trial.
Zachary Alan Fletcher, 23, is charged with two counts of alcohol-related vehicular assault.
Fletcher, out of jail on $5,000 bail, told authorities he was driving the truck when it crashed at 2 a.m. June 1, 2018, on Marine Drive at the McKinley Paper Company mill, according to the probable cause statement.
But Sequim attorney Larry Freedman, representing Fletcher, told Superior Court Judge Brent Basden that DNA evidence from the truck will show that one of Fletcher’s friends, not Fletcher, was driving.
Freedman said Fletcher had a concussion as a result of the collision, which Freedman said was not diagnosed until weeks later, suggesting that Fletcher “actually thought he was driving” when questioned immediately after the collision.
Fletcher recorded a 0.18 blood-alcohol content following the crash on Marine Drive east of the mills’ wastewater lagoon, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Steve Johnson said in his opening argument.
That is more than double the legal limit of 0.08.
When Port Angeles Police Office Kyle Cooper arrived at the site, passenger Naomi Kuykendall, then 19, was sitting on a large concrete block next to the telephone pole, Cooper testified Monday.
Fletcher, who did not have serious injuries, was bleeding from his arm, Cooper said.
Johnson said Kuykendall, whom Johnson said was sitting the middle front passenger seat, suffered severe injuries including a compression fracture of the neck. A neck vertebra was broken, according to the arrest report written by Cooper.
Accident reconstruction will show that Jacob Torey, then 18, was in the front right passenger seat when he was ejected before the truck slammed into the telephone pole, Johnson said.
Torey had a severed spine, Cooper said.
“The injuries are way beyond what the state needs to prove Mr. Fletcher guilty of vehicular assault,” Johnson said.
Cooper was en route to the single-vehicles rollover collision when he received a call from dispatch.
“A witness called and reported that the vehicle had been traveling approximately 80 mph prior to the accident and that one of the occupants had been ejected from the vehicle,” he said in his arrest report.
When Cooper arrived, the Ford F-350 Super Duty 4-by-4 pickup was on its side, the windshield crushed into the front compartment, a baby carrier in the back seat, according to police photos of the wreck.
Torey was lying on the ground, conscious and not bleeding, Cooper said.
Kuykendall and Torey were airlifted to Harborview Medical Center. Cooper wrapped Fletcher’s arm in a bandage.
Fletcher told Cooper he had been driving the pickup eastbound on Marine Drive, stopping at the stop sign at the mill, according to Cooper’s arrest report.
Fletcher told Cooper he “sped from there,” lost control and crashed.
He told Cooper he had had two “small beers” at about 4 p.m. and two more “small beers” between 8 p.m.-9 p.m., Cooper said in the report.
Cooper said Fletcher was unable to correctly complete a walk-and-turn test and the one-leg-stand test administered to suspected drunken drivers.
“Reconstruction will show that Mr. Torey was sitting in the front passenger seat and was ejected prior to the truck slamming into the telephone pole,” Johnson said Monday in court.
“Ms. Kuykendall was in the front middle seat and Mr. Fletcher was in the driver’s seat.”
Freedman, in his opening argument, said the truck hit a barrier before going airborne, spinning as it collided with the pole, alluding to Fletcher’s concussion.
“When Zack got out of that truck and people started questioning him, he thought he was driving,” Freedman said.
“He actually thought he was driving. When we started looking at the situation and we realized there was a lot of science here that shows that he wasn’t driving, we examined it further.”
Johnson estimated the trial will last four-six days.
Among his list of witnesses are Torey and Kuykendall, whom Johnson said may testify today.
There were seven continuances of Fletcher’s jury trial since Aug. 17.
It had been scheduled for Monday.
Fletcher waived a jury trial Thursday in favor of a bench trial.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].