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Crash experts give conflicting testimony in Pasco vehicular homicide trial

NEW PORT RICHEY — For Oknan Ziegler, the difference between living and dying came down to a fraction of a second.

On Jan. 17, 2007, Ziegler, 62, was pulling out of a Salvation Army store parking lot in Holiday onto busy U.S. 19. Just north of her, Justin Tanoff was heading south.

In court Tuesday, where Tanoff is standing trial on a charge of vehicular homicide, a forensic engineer testified that Ziegler needed about a third of a second longer to get out of Tanoff's way.

A third of second to travel 10 or 15 more feet across the lanes.

A third of a second so that Tanoff's Honda Civic might have clipped the back of Ziegler's Toyota Corolla or missed it completely, instead of slamming into her driver's door.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys disagree on what led to the collision. The state says Tanoff, 18 at the time, was driving recklessly down the highway between 60 and 80 mph. The defense says Ziegler failed to heed a stop sign in the parking lot and again before she pulled onto the highway.

What if Tanoff had been driving slower, Assistant State Attorney Mike Kenny asked.

Richard John Murdoch, the engineer called by the state, said if Tanoff had slowed to about 45 mph, he would have arrived at the impact point after Ziegler had cleared it.

But in her cross-examination, Tanoff's public defender Kemba Lewis asked it another way.

"If Mrs. Ziegler had stopped at the stop sign, the accident wouldn't have occurred?" Lewis asked.

"If she hadn't pulled out," Murdoch said. "I'm not convinced that she did not stop."

The defense's accident-reconstruction witness said Ziegler's speed at the time of the impact indicated she did not stop.

James Ipser, a physics professor at the University of Florida, said Ziegler was moving about 20 mph when the crash occurred. That's too fast a speed for the Corolla to have reached going from a stop just 18 feet into the middle lane of U.S. 19.

"If she had stopped at the edge of the roadway, she would have only gotten up to 12 mph," Ipser said.

But when Kenny questioned him, he acknowledged that Tanoff driving slower would have made a difference too.

"There's still going to be an impact, but farther back on (Ziegler's) vehicle," Ipser said.

The true cause will be up to a jury. The case is set to conclude today.

Crash experts give conflicting testimony in Pasco vehicular homicide trial 03/31/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 9:14pm]
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