Sonoma County deputies differed Tuesday with a California Highway Patrol officer over whether a Windsor man blamed in a fiery crash that killed five people showed a key sign of intoxication - slurred speech.
On the witness stand in the ongoing vehicular manslaughter trial of Ryan Karr, 28, Deputies Emily Dickey and Brent Kidder both said Karr had trouble speaking clearly while talking to officers at the scene of the nearly three-year-old crash on Highway 101.
A day earlier, CHP Officer Heather Bushey testified Karr had "glossy eyes" but no other symptoms. A finding that Karr was under the influence of drugs in the crash north of Santa Rosa is key to the prosecution's case.
"Everybody perceives situations differently," Kidder testified under cross examination from Karr's attorney, Andy Martinez.
The testimony came in the second day of trial stemming from the Jan. 19, 2007 crash that killed Windsor residents Maria Lopez Camacho, 54; Edith Carlos Medina, 23, her son, Fernando Carlos, 7; Almadelia Mendera-Basurto, 16; and Carmina Solorio, 23, of Mexico.
Medina's other son, then-4-year-old Christian Flores Carlos, survived with serious burns but lost an arm and leg.
Prosecutors allege Karr was driving too fast in rush-hour traffic when he rear-ended their stopped car, which burst into flames, trapping all but two of them inside.
Although Karr had not been drinking alcohol, he failed a field sobriety test and a subsequent blood test showed he had trace amounts of cocaine and marijuana in his system.
Deputy District Attorney Victoria Shanahan has charged Karr with being under the influence of drugs and called on jurors to find him guilty of five counts of felony vehicular manslaughter.
Karr's lawyer, however, has argued he was not impaired at the time of the accident, which is why he wasn't arrested at the scene.
Martinez questioned accounts from law enforcement, who agreed Karr lacked balance in a field test but offered conflicting statements about his speech. In testimony Tuesday, both deputies said his speech seemed slurred, contradicting CHP testimony.
The defense is expected to cast more doubt about the allegations as the trial continues with testimony from forensics experts and toxicologists. If the jury finds Karr was not impaired, he could face reduced misdemeanor charges that would not bring prison time with a conviction.