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CHP officer testifies she saw lights on golf cart

June 21, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

As the second week of testimony in the Blake Mostrong vehicular manslaughter case closed Wednesday, the prosecution called to the stand law enforcement officers who responded to the accident scene Oct. 7.

California Highway Patrol Officer Heather Erickson-Chase was called to the scene in the wake of the accident in which Mostrong's van struck and killed Michelle Marie Grady, 17, of Alpine.

It was Erickson-Chase's job to mark the crash scene, noting all elements that may have been related to the crash on Wheeler Road, where the van struck a golf cart, a motorcycle, Michelle and a friend, Eric Welter of the San Diego area, who survived.

In two weeks of testimony, stories regarding what occurred on Oct. 7 have varied.

The prosecution is asking the jury of six men and six women to find Mostrong, 21, of El Centro guilty of vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence and hit and run.

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Deputy District Attorney Wayne Robinson has contended Mostrong was under the influence when he got behind the wheel of his van, drove down Wheeler Road and struck Michelle.

He has contended that while the golf cart Michelle was near was stopped in the road, the cart had its lights on and should have been seen by Mostrong.

Defense Attorney Robert Espinosa of El Centro, who has not yet had a chance to present his witnesses, has contended the golf cart was not only stopped in the road but was on the wrong side of the road. He has insisted the cart did not have its lights on, making it impossible for oncoming traffic to see the cart.

He stated in opening remarks last week that Michelle and Welter had been drinking on the night she was killed.

One point on which witnesses have differed is whether the cart had its lights on. One witness, Blake Reed of El Centro, in the van at the time of the accident, said he saw lights just before the collision.

Other witnesses in the van have said they could not recall seeing lights.

On Wednesday, Erickson-Chase testified when she got to the scene the cart did have its lights on and she took a photograph of the cart that shows its lights were on.

She said that photograph was taken after she had been on scene for awhile doing other duties to make sure those that were injured were being treated and the scene was safe.

Still, Erickson-Chase said at no time did she turn on the lights, nor did anyone else do so.

Erickson-Chase testified that as she was marking the scene, she found what she determined to be the shoes Michelle had been wearing.

Erickson-Chase said the furthest marker she made from the crash site was the point where Michelle ended up after she was struck, more than 100 feet west of the crash site.

Espinosa asked Erickson-Chase about her training and whether she had the experience to reconstruct a crash scene.

Erickson-Chase said she did not, but added her role was not to reconstruct the scene. She said her role was to mark the scene for a diagram.

Espinosa asked how Erickson-Chase reached the conclusion the shoes belonged to Michelle.

"Did you ask Michelle if they were her shoes?" Espinosa asked.

"That was not possible," Erickson-Chase responded.

He asked her if she tried to put the shoes on Michelle.

Erickson-Chase answered she did not.

Espinosa asked Erickson-Chase if she had reached an opinion that the shoes belonged to Michelle because Michelle was not wearing shoes when she was found.

Erickson-Chase responded "yes," but later said Michelle's friend, Charlotte Lang, also at the scene on Oct. 7, had noted the shoes belonged to Michelle.

Espinosa asked Erickson-Chase why the golf cart had not been impounded.

She said she had not been directed by superiors to keep the vehicle, so it was released to the owner.

Espinosa stated he had not had a chance to review Erickson-Chase's rough notes before the notes were destroyed. He said he thinks protocol calls on officers to keep their rough notes.

Erickson-Chase responded, "I don't believe it says you must. I think it says you should. I think you have a choice."

Robinson asked Erickson-Chase about the speed limit on Wheeler Road. She responded it is 55 mph.

Robinson asked if it is ever unlawful to drive at the speed limit.

She said there are such times, including when visibility is limited due to darkness, dust or because of the road condition.

Espinosa asked her if it is legal for drivers to drive on any side of the road they wish.

Erickson-Chase responded drivers have to drive in a safe manner. She also pointed out Wheeler has no lane markers and is a dirt road.

She said there are times on an unmarked road where a driver might go on the wrong side.

Espinosa pointed out residential streets are unmarked. He asked if it is legal for a vehicle to be driven on the wrong side on such a street.

Erickson-Chase said it depends on the circumstances.

That prompted Espinosa to ask, "If your vehicle is blocking the road, is that against the law."

She responded, "Yes, sir."

He asked if people are standing in the road blocking traffic whether that is against the law. She responded it is the same law as a vehicle blocking traffic.

Testimony is expected to continue in the County Courthouse in El Centro at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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