Two experts looked at the accident that killed motorcyclist James D. Slaght on Oct. 30, 1996, and reached distinctly different conclusions in the drunken driving/manslaughter trial of Harold W. Clough.
A Florida Highway Patrol trooper told jurors Clough, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, violated Slaght's right of way with a sharp left turn; Slaght could not stop in time and died in the collision. A private engineer told jurors Slaght violated Clough's right of way; the defendant was already in the intersection when Slaght hit his vehicle.
It took the jury an hour Thursday to convict Clough on a charge of drunken driving/manslaughter.
Clough was silent as Circuit Judge Michael Blackstone read the verdict, but family members sobbed quietly.
Bailiffs fingerprinted Clough and booked him into the Citrus County jail.
It was Clough's first conviction. He faces between 10 and 15 years in state prison. Judge Blackstone will sentence Clough on Nov. 24.
"I think justice was done," Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto said afterward. "I feel good for the victim's family. They were very happy; this will bring them some closure.
Like his expert, defense attorney Charles Vaughn disagreed both with the state's case and then the jury's verdict. Vaughn called the accident and the verdict a tragedy for both families.
"It was going to be a tragedy either way," Vaughn said. "Two lives have been ruined. Two families have been hurt.
"It was the first time my client, a 78-year-old man, had ever been charged with anything in his life."
FHP Cpl. Louis Wells reconstructed the accident for jurors Wednesday, and laid the blame squarely on Clough.
Slaght, 57, of Homosassa, was headed east on W Yulee Drive, the trooper said, near Bluebird Springs Lane. Past that intersection, the road splits into Yulee Drive and Bradshaw Street.
Clough was in his 1996 Ford Taurus station wagon heading west on Bradshaw Street.
He drove past a stop sign at Bradshaw Street, the trooper said, and attempted a sharp left turn onto Bluebird Springs Lane, at the same time cutting through eastbound Yulee.
Slaght saw the Taurus enter his motorcycle's path, put on his brakes, and skidded right into the station wagon's right-front end. Slaght, who rolled underneath the vehicle, was dead when police arrived.
The trooper had a paramedic draw a sample of blood from Clough, which revealed he had a 0.12 blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident. In Florida a driver is presumed impaired with a 0.08 blood-alcohol level.
Judge Blackstone can exceed the guidelines in sentencing Clough, Catto said, but the prosecutor said he intends to recommend the judge remain within the guidelines.