NEW PORT RICHEY — The three friends left the Players Club on a Sunday after midnight in October 2009. According to prosecutors, Shawn Cleaver, then 35, got behind the wheel of Harry "Buster" Diede's souped-up truck. The friends, which also included Mark R. Whisner, had been drinking most of the day. The pickup barreled along Denton Avenue at 90 miles per hour.
The road curved but the vehicle did not. It rode the guardrail, grinding metal and shearing off a fender, near East Road for about 100 feet. Then the truck took to the air, flipping four times, the Florida Highway Patrol said, before it slammed into a large concrete pole.
A neighbor nearby named John Weidensall saw the truck flash by and heard the crash. He ran over, he said Tuesday in court, and almost tripped over Diede, who had been thrown from the pickup. Diede died at the scene. The crash had pinned Whisner in the back seat of the mangled truck. He too had died. Cleaver was pinned, but alive, in the driver's seat. Emergency workers had to cut him out.
Cleaver was charged with two counts of DUI manslaughter and two counts of culpable negligence. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Cleaver told investigators he had "a lot of beer," according to prosecutor Eva Vergos, and his blood-alcohol level was measured between 0.124 and 0.125 percent, above the 0.08 threshold at which Florida law presumes a driver to be impaired.
On Tuesday Cleaver, 39, of Holiday, walked into the courtroom at the West Pasco Judicial Center in a suit and leaned on a cane.
His attorney, Dan Duryea, told jurors there were no eyewitnesses to the crash, and that "no one knows who was really driving."
The truck was also altered, he said, and that needed to be factored in. It was lifted and had special off-road tires, and was modified for more horsepower. His client's injuries, Duryea said, were not consistent with someone sitting in the front seat.
"The question is where they began," he said in his opening statement. "Who was in the driver's seat? What did the spinning and the turning and the flipping do?"
Emergency worker William Day was one of the first on the scene. He took the stand Tuesday, and Vergos asked him where he found Cleaver.
"He was leaning against the back of the driver's seat," Day said. "He was sitting in the position you would naturally find someone sitting behind the wheel."
The trial is expected to last through the end of the week.
Jon Silman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229. Follow @Jonsilman1 on Twitter.