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Evidence of alcohol use allowed in trial

In a decision favoring a chiropractor charged in a boating accident that killed four teen-agers, a judge will allow evidence showing that a teen-ager driving the other boat had been drinking. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer agreed Wednesday to allow into court evidence showing that Geoffery Nash had a small amount of alcohol and marijuana in his blood.

Nash was driving a 17-foot boat that collided with a 35-foot cigarette boat driven by chiropractor William LaTorre. LaTorre is charged with manslaughter in the accident that killed four teen-agers May 27, 1989, in the Intracoastal Waterway north of Indian Rocks Beach Bridge. LaTorre's trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 5.

Nash had a blood-alcohol level of 0.02 percent, according to court records. In Florida, drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 are presumed to be impaired. Blood tests also showed that Nash had a minute amount of marijuana in his blood.

Although tests showed Nash's blood-alcohol level was within acceptable limits, prosecutors hoped to bar the evidence,

arguing that it would be inflammatory and that it had no effect on his handling of the boat.

"None whatsoever," said Assistant Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Glenn Martin. "That's what the experts said."

Defense attorneys argued that evidence showing Nash drank alcohol and smoked marijuana is crucial because it might have affected his maneuvering of the boat.

"If a fact like that was kept out, it would hurt," defense attorney Brian Donerly said. "Certainly we did not want to be deprived of that."

Schaeffer also ruled that evidence could be introduced in court showing that Jamie LeCher, the sole survivor in the crash and a possible witness, may have smoked marijuana the morning of the crash.

Prosecutors said it was irrelevant because he wasn't driving the boat. But defense attorneys said LeCher's memory could be faulty if he smoked marijuana.

LaTorre is charged with four counts of manslaughter in the deaths of Nash, Richard Weeks, Todd Kuhn and Jan Christman. Prosecutors allege that LaTorre recklessly accelerated in a minimum-wake zone and ran over the smaller boat. Defense attorneys say LaTorre was outside the minimum-wake zone, and that the smaller boat cut in front of him.

Tests showed no trace of alcohol or drugs in LaTorre's blood.

Also Wednesday, as part of the same ruling, Schaeffer prohibited defense attorneys from introducing evidence showing that three of the teen-agers killed in the accident had been drinking.

She said that evidence is irrelevant because they weren't driving the boat.