PORT ANGELES — Closing arguments Tuesday in the vehicular assault bench trial of Zachary Alan Fletcher pitted his lawyer’s assertion that forensic evidence proved a companion was driving at the time of the wreck against reports that Fletcher said several times that he was behind the wheel.
Fletcher’s Ford F-350 went airborne after hitting a concrete barrier before smashing into a telephone pole at about 2:15 a.m. June 1, 2018, on Marine Drive outside the McKinley Paper Company mill at Ediz Hook.
Fletcher, 23, of Port Angeles, is charged with two counts of alcohol-related vehicular assault. He suffered minor injuries while two companions were maimed for life.
After Clallam County Deputy Prosecuting attorney Steve Johnson and Port Angeles lawyer Lane Wolfley, representing Fletcher, presented their closing arguments, Superior Court Judge Brent Basden said he will try to issue an oral ruling by Friday.
The maximum penalty on both charges is 20 years in prison and a $40,000 fine.
Wolfley said blood and DNA evidence proved that Naomi Kuykendall, then 19, was driving when the pickup truck crashed into the pole, ejecting Jacob Torey 15 feet from the vehicle.
Torey, then 19, is paralyzed from the waist down. Kuykendall’s neck was broken. Both were airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Fletcher, his arm lacerated, was treated at Olympic Medical Center and released.
His blood alcohol level was 0.18, more than double the legal threshold of 0.08.
All three were drinking that night, and no one was wearing seat belts, according to testimony.
Kuykendall, whose Snapchat videos showed Fletcher clowning around and swerving while driving shortly before the crash, testified Fletcher was driving shortly before the wreck but could not remember when it occurred, only the aftermath.
Currently suffering from short-term memory loss, she testified she could not recall where she was sitting when the vehicle smashed into the pole and when Fletcher, who had stripped down to American flag underwear while speeding 90-100 mph on Ediz Hook, had changed into his jeans, which he was wearing when the crash occurred.
Torey also testified he could not remember the crash.
Fletcher’s other lawyer, Larry Freedman of Sequim, said in his opening argument that Fletcher suffered a concussion as a result of the wreck that was diagnosed weeks later, and that Fletcher “actually thought he was driving” when questioned immediately after the collision.
Johnson said the evidence “clearly showed” Fletcher was behind the wheel.
He cited Fletcher’s five “confessions” to two men who stopped to help at the crash site, to Port Angeles Police Officer Kyle Cooper, who questioned Fletcher at the crash site, and to Olympic Medical Center emergency room physician Dr. Stephen Churchley.
Fletcher told Churchley the night of the crash that he was the driver and said he was remorseful, Churchley testified.
Eleven days after the crash, Fletcher, who was complaining of neck pain, told Churchley again that he was the driver, but also said he was unsure.
No evidence of Fletcher suffering from a brain injury, such as dizziness, fatigue, aversion to light or memory loss were presented at the trial, Johnson said.
“It’s just headaches and nausea and a lay person’s determination that he seemed like he had his bell rung,” he said, referring to the description of Fletcher offered by one of the men who stopped to help the victims.
Johnson said that in Fletcher’s statement contained in a report by The Accredited Collision Examination Specialists Inc., hired by Fletcher’s defense team and paid by Fletcher’s insurance company, Fletcher never says anything about memory loss, only that he denies driving.
On the night of the crash, “I never once said I was driving,” Fletcher said in the statement, adding, “I said I didn’t even know what happened.”
The night of the crash, at the crash site, Cooper “asked who was driving,” according to Cooper’s probable cause statement that formed the basis of the charges.
“Fletcher said that he was driving. I asked Fletcher what happened, and he said he was speeding,” Cooper said, adding that Fletcher said that he “lost control and crashed.”
Fletcher also told Cooper he had two “small beers” at 4 p.m. that day and two more “small beers” at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.
A DNA analysis by forensic consultant George Chan, an ex-policeman hired by Freedman and paid by Fletcher’s insurance company, “concluded it was probable that Mr. Fletcher was in the passenger seat at the time of the collision, and the lack of DNA from Mr. Fletcher on the driver side airbag supported that he was likewise not the driver,” according to the report.
Johnson said Kuykendall was sitting in the middle and Torey in the right front passenger seat.
Wolfley focused on DNA and blood evidence, not Fletcher’s concussion.
He said a large splotch of blood on Fletcher’s pants could only have been created by him crouching in the truck as a passenger.
“We have people being tossed around like rag dolls,” Johnson said.
“Blood is going to be going everywhere. DNA is going to be going everywhere.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.