The prosecution says the accused's blood alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit.
By RICHARD RAEKE
Published March 17, 2004
NEW PORT RICHEY - James Bishop Jr. testified with his hands on Tuesday. Thumbs up meant yes. Thumbs down meant no. More elaborate answers required him to type on his keyboard and command a computer synthesized voice.
On March 13, 2001, Bishop was driving a 2001 Mercury Sable south on U.S. 19 when he tried to make a U-turn into northbound traffic near Hudson Road. Jeffrey Allen Patton hit Bishop's car broadside, killing 18-year-old Justin Magin. The accident left Bishop, now 21, in a wheelchair and without a voice.
Todd Perkins, 34, who was riding in the front seat of Patton's car, also was killed. Two passengers in the back seat of Patton's Taurus were injured.
Authorities say Patton of Hudson had a 0.23 blood alcohol level, nearly three times the level at which the state presumes impairment.
He has been charged with two counts of driving under the influence with manslaughter and multiple lesser offenses. If convicted, he faces 30 years in prison.
His attorney, Clementine Condi, said Bishop was a teenage driver who pulled into oncoming traffic.
"This was a tragedy for everyone involved. No one could have avoided this accident," she said during opening arguments at Patton's trial.
The science would not support the prosecution's case that Patton was approaching speeds of 80 mph, Condi said.
Assistant State Attorney Debra Tuomey succinctly told the jury, "Point two-three. This defendant had three times the legal limit."
Patton, now 40, has a record of DUI arrests dating back to 1984. He was given his license back in 1998, after a 10-year suspension. On Dec. 11, 2000, the Florida Highway Patrol arrested him for his fourth DUI.
Witnesses at the trial's opening day said Patton was with a group of men drinking away a drizzly afternoon at the Wing House in New Port Richey. They downed shots and several pitchers of beer before being cut off by the bartender sometime around 4 p.m.
They left, heading north on U.S. 19. Other drivers testified that Perkins was hanging out of the window and pumping his fist as Patton weaved in and out of rush-hour traffic. Meredith Klein, who was passed by Patton, estimated his speed at more than 80 mph.
FHP Trooper John Zwirn described Patton's demeanor as "carefree" following the crash.
Beer bottles littered the interior of the car and Patton smelled of alcohol, the trooper said.
An ambulance driver was attending to Patton, trapped in the front seat.
As he approached the car, "(Patton) said, "What's up?' and smiled," Zwirn testified.