Trial starts on fatal crash
By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
INVERNESS -- The man trapped behind the wheel of the smashed Ford Escort had an urgent request for the good Samaritan who stopped to help.
"He asked me if I could take the beer can out of his car for him," Christine Wilkens told a Citrus County jury Monday.
But Wilkens refused to assist Daniel Bedal. Florida Highway Patrol investigators found the can of Busch beer and had Bedal's blood tested for alcohol. According to those tests, his blood alcohol content the night of the Aug. 3 crash was .35, more than four times the limit at which someone is considered impaired under Florida law.
Witnesses said Bedal, 47, of Miami lost control of his car while negotiating a curve on State Road 44, swerved into oncoming traffic and crashed head-on into a silver Oldsmobile Sierra carrying brothers Robert and John Still and John Still's 14-year-old son, Michael.
John Still was killed, and his son suffered a fractured pelvis. Robert Still had a broken rib and scrapes and cuts.
Bedal also was injured, and firefighters had to use the Jaws of Life to remove him from the wreckage.
On Monday, Bedal went on trial for one count each of driving under the influence, manslaughter, DUI causing serious bodily injury and DUI causing personal injury.
Assistant State Attorney Richard Buxman told jurors in his opening statement that the death of John Still was caused by the poor decisions made by Bedal, who had been charged with DUI in Martin County just a few months before the fatal wreck.
"We're here today because of (Bedal's) choices," Buxman said. "He chose to drink. He chose to drink a lot. Then he chose to get behind the wheel of the car."
But Assistant Public Defender Colleen Kasperek asked jurors to focus on the information prosecutors won't present, including the condition of the driver of the Sierra, Robert Still.
The state called Robert Still as its first witness. In testimony that was often tearful, Still described the events that led to the fatal collision with Bedal.
Still, 38, had returned to his home just outside of Inverness about 4:30 p.m. He picked up his older brother, who had retired from the Army only three months earlier, and the two went out to run errands.
After quick stops at the bank and post office, the brothers stopped at Coach's, where, Still said, he drank a beer and a half.
They returned to the house to pick up Michael Still, who had planned to go skating at the Roller Barn that night. The trio set out about 6:30 p.m.
They were about two-tenths of a mile east of Inverness city limits when Still saw the Ford Escort headed straight for him.
"I didn't really see him until he came around the curve . . . I jerked the wheel," he said.
The Escort smashed into the Sierra, sending it spinning four or five times. By the time paramedics arrived, it was too late to save John Still, 41. He died at the scene.
"It killed my brother," said Still, who buried his face in his hands and wept at the end of his testimony.
The trial is scheduled to continue today.
This is not the first time Bedal has been in trouble with the law. He has been arrested 21 times since 1972, according to records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The charges include aggravated assault, possession of cocaine and disorderly intoxication.
-- Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or email@example.com.
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