LARGO — Right off the bat, a defense attorney acknowledged Jimmy Alton Dunn had been drinking on the night he got into an accident that killed two men on a motorcycle in Clearwater.
But that didn't make the accident his fault, said assistant public defender Heidi Demers.
"Mr. Dunn's drinking did not cause or contribute to this accident," she said. "The sole proximate cause of the accident was the speed at which the motorcycle was traveling."
On the first day of Dunn's trial for DUI-manslaughter on Tuesday, Demers said if the motorcylists hadn't been speeding, possibly going more than 70 mph, they would have been able to stop before striking Dunn's car when he turned in front of them.
Dunn, 60, is a serial drunken driver who had racked up three previous DUIs, and had his license revoked for 10 years, before the fatal accident in August 2008. His license had been reinstated less than a year before the crash.
That record will not be revealed to the jury in this case. Nonetheless, Assistant State Attorney Walter Manning said the evidence would convince them to convict Dunn, whose blood alcohol level was tested at twice the level at which a driver is presumed impaired, and another time at nearly three times that level, on the night of the crash.
On the night of the accident, Harold Davis, 25, a tire technician, was driving his Suzuki motorcycle south on Keene Road in Clearwater, with his friend Jason Hennis, 24, on the back.
Dunn was driving a white Oldsmobile north on Keene, and turned left on Sunset Point Road. Manning said Davis obviously saw the car in front of him, because he squeezed the brakes and attempted to avoid the car, but clipped it anyway.
A witness, Georgette Beauchamp of Largo, said the motorcycle passed her as she was driving down Keene at about 40 mph, and then she saw "two bodies flying up in the air."
Attorneys this morning are scheduled to discuss before Circuit Judge Chris Helinger how much of the 911 recording can be played for the jury. On the recording, another witness to the accident says she could smell liquor from Dunn's car, and that he appeared "drunk as a skunk."
Davis' father, Reynaldo, is one of the people watching the trial. In spite of Dunn's other DUI arrests, "this guy apparently never learned his lesson," he said in an interview.
"In this case he's taken the life of two people and he's ruined the lives of a lot of people at the same time," he said.
The trial resumes today, and is expected to conclude Thursday or Friday.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.