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Trooper: Driver at fault in crash

At his trial on charges of drunken driving/manslaughter Wednesday, Harold W. Clough silently sat by as the jury heard the testimony of Florida Highway Patrol Cpl. Louie Wells.

Wells reconstructed the Oct. 30, 1996, accident, which killed 57-year-old motorcyclist James D. Slaught.

Wells gave this account:

Slaught was headed east on W Yulee Drive on his Kawasaki 1000, near its intersection with Bluebird Springs Lane. Past that intersection, the road splits into two roads, Yulee Drive and Bradshaw Street.

Clough, who at the time of the accident lived in the Homosassa area, was driving west on Bradshaw Street in his 1996 Ford Taurus station wagon.

But Clough ignored a stop sign at Bradshaw Street, and attempted a sharp left turn onto Bluebird Springs Lane, cutting into eastbound Yulee.

Slaught saw the Taurus enter his path, applied his brakes, and skidded into the vehicle's right front end. Slaught rolled underneath the vehicle and was killed.

The trooper's conclusion: Clough failed to yield by driving past the stop sign and attempting a sharp, illegal left turn from Bradshaw Street onto Bluebird Springs Lane.

At the time, police said Clough had a 0.12 percent blood-alcohol level. In Florida, a driver is presumed impaired with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level.

"In your opinion, what led to this accident?" Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto asked Wells.

"(Clough) was the sole factor," Wells said. "If he had not made that turn and violated the right of way, we would not be here today."

Catto began his case Wednesday morning with testimony from witnesses who saw the accident unfold from different ends of Yulee Drive, state troopers and evidence technicians who handled Clough's blood sample.

But Wells proved to be the prosecution's key witness, using skid marks and the remnants of the Kawasaki and Taurus to reconstruct the accident for the jury. Catto closed the state's case late Wednesday.

Clough's lawyer, Charles Vaughn, will open the defense's case this morning. He plans to question Clough's wife and an accident reconstruction expert.

Vaughn would not say whether Clough will testify.

While questioning Wells, Vaughn asked the trooper if his client appeared impaired by alcohol.

"Was his speech slurred?" Vaughn asked.

"No," Wells said.

"Did he have trouble standing up?" Vaughn asked. "Was he falling down?"

"I did not see him stand up for very long," Wells said.

"And did you give him a field sobriety test?" Vaughn asked.

"No," Wells said.

But the trooper did have a paramedic take a blood sample from Clough, which authorities said showed he was impaired.

Vaughn then told the trooper that his client was already turning when Slaught appeared from behind a curve.

"Isn't it true that Mr. Slaught violated my client's right of way?" Vaughn asked.

"No," Wells said. "(Slaught) had the right of way no matter where he came from."

"What if my client didn't see him (Slaught) because of that curve?" Vaughn asked.

"He did see him," Wells said. "He told me he did."