Chad Deal 8:22 p.m., May 20
Forensic experts for both prosecution and defense gave conflicting testimony this week, in the triple-manslaughter trial of a woman accused of being the driver in a fatal highway crash.
Thirty-six-year-old Debbie Pacheco Sumi denies that she was behind the wheel of a Jeep that collided with a car parked on the side of highway 78, two years ago.
Experts for the defense insist that Sumi must have been asleep in the back seat of the Jeep when it slammed into a black Nissan Altima, they say it was her boyfriend driving at the time. Sumi’s boyfriend Larry Alvarez was one of three persons killed just after midnight, the early morning of August 13, 2010. He was not wearing a seatbelt and there were no airbags in the 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The two other persons killed were standing just outside the Nissan Altima on the side of the highway.
Biomechanical engineer Dr. John Gardiner said that injuries to defendant Sumi were inconsistent with slamming into the steering wheel, while injuries to her boyfriend Alvarez would be expected on the driver. The steering wheel was noticably deformed.
Accident reconstruction specialist Stephen Plourd said “the only way” certain clothing-fiber-marks found inside the Jeep could have gotten there would be from Debbie Pacheco Sumi being thrown out an open side window – from the seat directly behind the driver. Both defense experts also pointed out that the back of the driver’s seat was deformed, and suggested it was Sumi’s body flying forward at time of impact that caused that evidence.
Sumi was apparently thrown clear during the crash, she was found dazed but alive in the highway.
Both defense experts suggested that the boyfriend’s blood on the steering wheel and finding his legs and feet still entangled in the driver’s area are indications he was the driver.
Both defense experts, Gardiner and Plourd, found fault with conclusions of a prosecution expert, Ed Phillips. The defense experts specifically questioned Phillips' computer modeling and computations and stated that Phillips' errors would have put the Jeep traveling in a direction opposite to the physical evidence.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Lindsay Itzhaki pointed out to Phillips that in his written report he placed one survivor in the back seat of the severely-smashed Nissan, when in fact that person was in the less-crumpled front seat.
Trial continues this week in San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse.