BEAUFORT — Testimony will continue next week in the murder trial of Aaron Wesley McGarva, 23, charged with the death of a Newport man in an accident on the Newport River high-rise bridge last year.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth Crow recessed court Thursday, to reconvene Wednesday, as the judge had a scheduling conflict.
A jury, selected earlier this week, has been hearing testimony about the death of William Henry Knott Jr., 63, who was on his way to work April 3, 2011, when officers report Mr. McGarva’s Mitsubishi car ran into the back of Mr. Knott’s Toyota truck, causing the truck to plunge into the Newport River.
Mr. Knott died in the accident and police charged Mr. McGarva with second-degree murder. He was found leaving the scene on the Beaufort-Morehead City causeway.
Medical and law enforcement experts testified as to Mr. McGarva’s mental condition and alleged drug use before the 5:30 a.m. fatal crash that killed Mr. Knott. Testimony also included crash reconstruction to determine speed, details of the crash and recovery of the victim and his truck.
On Wednesday, law enforcement officers said they arrived at the accident to find debris on the east slope of the bridge, but no vehicles.
County Deputy Michael Mull, who was on his way to the sheriff’s department from his home in Newport, said he ran over what he initially thought was pipe that had fallen off a truck. It later turned out to be part of the bridge railing dislodged at the time of the crash.
“As I continued on down the bridge, I encountered a huge debris field that included a toolbox from a truck, tools, a rear windshield, glass and parts of vehicles,” he said. “But, no vehicles.”
Deputy Mull was soon joined by Deputy James McKinney who arrived from Beaufort and discovered Mr. McGarva’s Mitsubishi, abandoned and lodged in bushes adjacent to the railroad bed at the east end of the bridge on the causeway.
Because it was still dark, Deputy McKinney said he began searching the area around the bridge, including the water, with his flashlight for the driver, but found no one, nor any debris or fuel sheen on the water to indicate a vehicle might have gone off the side of the bridge.
After examining the debris on the bridge and realizing much of the railing at that end of the bridge was missing, officials determined a second vehicle must have been involved and that it was in the water.
Deputy McKinney testified the rear window from found on the bridge revealed a vehicle identification number.
With that he was able to find out from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles that it belonged to a truck owned by Mr. Knott. After calling Mr. Knott’s wife in Newport, then his job site at the Beaufort Food Lion, the deputy was told Mr. Knott had left home for work and had not arrived at the store.
In the meantime, a search was launched for the driver of the car. Beaufort police found Mr. McGarva as he walked east near the causeway. Beaufort Police Sgt. Tim Tucker said when Mr. McGarva was found and police were attempting to interview him he was belligerent, cursing at officers, fighting them and rambling nonsensically. Police had to restrain him with handcuffs as they waited for Beaufort EMS who also responded to the scene.
Dionne Willis, paramedic with Beaufort EMS, testified that it took responders a few minutes to apply a neck brace and restrain Mr. McGarva by strapping him to a backboard.
“We were concerned about any injuries he may have and needed to stabilize him,” she said. Ms. Willis said Mr. McGarva continued yelling, threatening to slap personnel and cursing. At that time she said his eyes were dilated, but his respiration and heart rate were within normal ranges.
The only obvious injury appeared to be a minor “goose egg,” as she described it, on his forehead with some abrasion, but no bleeding.
He was transported to Carteret General Hospital where staff began to evaluate and attempted to treat Mr. McGarva.
Emergency room staff, including hospital paramedics Mike Hibble and David Garner, primary care registered nurse Megan Green and emergency room doctor John Duda, testified that Mr. McGarva continued struggling and described him as “really impaired.”
After being restrained to a gurney and receiving two different dosages of Ativan, a sedative, and one of Haldol, used to treat psychotic disorders, hospital staff were able to retrieve a urine sample and run a CAT scan on Mr. McGarva.
According to staff, Mr. McGarva admitted to having smoked marijuana. Results of blood and urine samples later examined by Special Agent Aaron Jonsick, forensic lab supervisor for the N.C. State Crime Lab in Raleigh, who also testified, showed traces of marijuana and Ativan. No alcohol was found.
Although asked repeatedly by defense attorney James Wallace if Mr. McGarva’s actions could be contributed to a concussion, medical personnel and the CAT scan showed no evidence of head, neck or internal injuries according to testimony from Dr. Cary Nelson, head radiologist at Carteret General.
About five hours later, Mr. McGarva was released from the hospital and into the custody of Morehead City police, who charged him with the death of Mr. Knott.
In the following investigation, the issue of possible use of LSD, a hallucinogenic, by Mr. McGarva was raised.
Drug Recognition Expert Lt. Kenneth Tomzak of the Raleigh Police Department testified Wednesday that Mr. McGarva’s actions were consistent with the use of LSD. He said although most usage resulted in what he described as a “good trip” there were also times when the use could also result in the very negative reactions or a “bad trip.”
It was during this session of testimony that Chris Taylor, 24, a friend of Mr. McGarva’s, testified that he had used LSD provided by Mr. McGarva during a band session at his apartment of Fourth Street in Morehead City earlier in the evening prior to the wreck. According to him, the dosage, liquefied then dried onto a small piece of blotter paper and known as a “hit,” was about the size of a stamp. Although he ingested the drug, he said he did not see Mr. McGarva ingest any.
Mr. Taylor said his “trip” experience was a good one. “I saw lots of lights and a picture on the wall came to life,” he said. He also testified as the night wore on, Mr. McGarva’s mood began to change from laid back to antagonistic, so much so that it eventually lead to him being locked out of Mr. Taylor’s apartment.
Mr. Taylor said Mr. McGarva wanted the group to go to his house in Beaufort, but they knew going out was not the thing to do. He said Mr. McGarva took his sound system amplifiers and put them in his Mitsubishi. After retrieving his amplifiers, Mr. Taylor said they argued more and Mr. McGarva was locked out of the apartment and left. This was some time after 5 a.m. on April 3.
On Thursday, follow-up testimony began into the actual crash itself with a crash reconstruction expert, Morehead City Police Lt. James Gaskill, leading the testimony.
Using video from N.C. Port Authority’s security cameras, jurors and others in the court were able to see the crash. Although it was still dark, streetlight and headlamp illumination provided some detail such as vehicle make and color.
The first vehicle recorded by the camera facing the intersection of Fourth and Arendell streets was that of Sgt. Tim Tucker’s black and white patrol car. Sgt. Tucker was on his way to work in Beaufort. The second vehicle seen several seconds later was that of Mr. Knott’s truck coming east through the intersection and toward the bridge. Some 18 seconds later, Mr. McGarva’s Mitsubishi could be seen turning right onto Highway 70 from West Fourth Street.
Video from a second camera on the north side of the bridge shows all three vehicles as they made their way up the west side of the bridge. Video from a third camera, know as the Radio Island Camera, about 1/4 mile away, showed the headlamps of Mr. Knott’s truck and soon those of the Mitsubishi coming up behind the truck. It ends as the car impacts the truck and sparks fly as metal strikes metal and the pavement.
As part of the testimony, the remains of the two vehicles were brought to the Sheriff’s Department where only the jurors had been allowed to see them.
During following testimony concerning speed on impact, Lt. Gaskill explained that he had used time sequences provided by video and physical evidence such as tire marks, debris and missing bridge railing to determine the sequence of events before and during the crash.
There were no skid marks to show the driver of the car attempted to use his brakes. The only marks were those left as the truck was pushed sideways down the highway. Using calculus equations to determine time and distance Lt. Gaskill was able to conclude the Mitsubishi was traveling at approximately 102 mph when it struck the rear of Mr. Knott’s truck.
Using a diagram, he illustrated how the car went up under the rear of the truck, pushed it along the roadway, onto the walkway along the bridge and eventually onto the railing.
As the railing began to break apart, a length of it partly impaled the undercarriage of the truck.
“The truck did what is called a flip onto its top,” Lt. Gaskill said. He said the force of the car continued to push the truck through the railing and it fell to the water below landing on its top and sinking to the bottom, crushing the top and pinning the driver.
Onslow County Medical Examiner Dr. John Almeida testified Mr. Knott died of a broken neck on impact having suffered a break at the fourth cervical.
“He was dead at impact,” the doctor said. He said there was no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Mr. Knott’s blood and that Mr. Knott had not drowned.
Morehead City Police divers Detective Nate Festerman and Sgt. Nick Stoneroad testified that once authorities determined there was a second vehicle in the water, preparations were made to locate the vehicle and begin a recovery effort.
“This was not a rescue dive, it was a recovery,” Officer Stoneroad told the court. The effort was joined by divers from the Atlantic Beach Fire Department and monitored by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Detective Festerman told the court of the difficulty involved in locating the truck and raising it due to dark, cold water and swift currents. Also, attempts to extract the body were thwarted with the truck’s top being crushed. He told the court once the truck was located, balloon markers were attached to the axles of the truck to mark its location. A crane was brought onto the bridge, and after all traffic was stopped in both directions, it was used to hoist the truck with the body inside to the surface. Jurors were shown photos taken of the truck being brought up with the deceased in it. Photos considered too graphic were not viewed, sealed by the judge and turned over to the court clerk.