MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – An attorney for a former neurosurgeon took direct aim Thursday at prosecutors’ claim that excessive speed caused a 2020 crash that killed a young woman.
Prosecution expert witness Ronnie Redding, a former state trooper who now owns an accident reconstruction consulting firm, testified that the single-vehicle crash would not have occurred if defendant Jonathan Pishoy Nakla had been driving the speed limit on Interstate 65.
Defense attorney Dennis Knizley focused on the driver of another car that turned in front of Nakla. He played surveillance video that jurors saw earlier in the trial. But he slowed it down frame by frame, showing Nakla’s Audi R8 Spyder was about 25 feet away when a car driven by Christopher Davis began to turn into the parking lot of the Comfort Inn.
Knizli suggested that even if Nahla had been driving at 45 miles per hour – 66 feet per second – he was still at serious risk of a crash.
“He’s got less than half a second to avoid it,” Knizley said.
Redding agreed with Knizley’s math based on the location of the two vehicles in the video. But he also testified that skid marks further up the road showed that Nahla started braking earlier and had three times as much time to react at 45 mph.
“The skid marks are part of the evidence,” he testified.
Redding also agreed on cross-examination that he could not see a turn signal on Davis’ car. This was a point of contention during the trial. Nakla told police the other driver did not signal; Davis testified that he did.
Knizley showed another video of Davis later leaving the parking lot. The car’s turn signal was not on at the time.
The manslaughter trial, now in its third week, is drawing to a close. Prosecutor Ashley Rich told Mobile County Circuit Judge Ben Brooks that she intends to call two more witnesses. Knizli told the judge that Nakla does not intend to testify at this time. That would mean testimony should end on Friday, with closing arguments likely to take place on Monday.
On Thursday, prosecutors also presented evidence to support what they say was the other cause of the crash – Nakla’s intoxication.
Alabama Chief Toxicologist Curt Harper testified that based on blood samples taken at Mobile Infirmary after the 12:40 a.m. accident, Nakhla’s blood alcohol concentration was between .11 and .125 at the time of the crash. At that level, research shows drivers are five to six times more likely to be involved in a traffic accident, Harper testified.
Defense attorney Michael Whissonant confronted Harper with a number of studies that cast doubt on the reliability of the so-called retrograde extrapolation analysis that toxicologists use to assess a defendant’s level of intoxication. Harper acknowledges that there are many assumptions that go into the calculation and that different people absorb alcohol at different rates.
The judge agreed to take a defense witness out of order to accommodate his schedule. Dr. Harrison Pearl testified that he diagnosed Nahla with a concussion when he arrived at Mobile Hospital after the accident. That contradicted the testimony of Dr. Amber Gordon, who told jurors that Nakla showed signs of intoxication, not concussion.
“I didn’t feel in any way that alcohol affected anything I saw in my exam,” he said. “I don’t see how it could.”
On cross-examination, Pearl testified that he left Mobile Hospital because of a dispute with other doctors in the neurology department about the standard of care.
Brooks told attorneys he would not retain jurors past 6:00 p.m. and ordered for the day. He also ordered Pearl to return on Friday to continue her testimony.
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