Driver combative until told woman diedKalen Painter was combative and violent with rescue workers assisting him at the scene of February's fatal collision south of Astoria until news that he'd killed an elderly woman in the crash "brought him to a screeching halt."
Firefighters, paramedics and police who responded to the scene of the two-car crash on Oregon Highway 202 described in court Tuesday how Painter, 21, yelled obscenities, threw punches and showed little concern for the driver of the other vehicle who was killed in the collision.
Painter is on trial in Clatsop County Circuit Court, charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter and driving under the influence of intoxicants for the Feb. 13 crash that killed 73-year-old Ruth Guenther.
Witnesses Tuesday included a bartender who served Painter three drinks at lunchtime the day of the crash, and a liquor store clerk who sold him a bottle of vodka later that afternoon.
Stan Guenther, Ruth Guenther's husband, testified that he last saw his wife at 10 a.m. the day of the crash when she left their home near Olney to go watch their granddaughter. Guenther took the stand to testify that his wife was in good health the day of the crash, and was not using any medications. There also were no problems with her 2002 Hyundai, he said.
The only eye-witness to the collision, Ann Lounsberry, was traveling behind Guenther at the time of the crash. With her voice breaking, she described watching the SUV approach at a high rate of speed and cross the center line in front of Guenther.
"It looked like it did not even attempt to turn," she testified.
Guenther's car spun around three times before coming to rest next to a tree, while Painter's vehicle ended up down an embankment in the mud, Lounsberry said. She slammed on her on brakes, and after calming her two children, went to the car in the mud to see if the driver was all right. When Painter said he was fine, she then walked over to Guenther's car and asked the same question, but got no response, she said. It was clear that Guenther was dead, she said.
Returning to the other car, she saw Painter struggle out of the vehicle and sink into the mud. He began yelling profanities and pounding on the side of the car as he struggled to get free, she said.
Norm Stutznegger, a volunteer captain with Olney-Walluski Fire District, was one of the first on scene. Painter, stuck waist-deep in the mud, yelled "get me the f--- out of here" and "get the f------ pigs away from me" when police arrived, he testified.
Car crash victims with head injuries sometimes act irrationally, but Painter showed no signs of wounds to his head, Stutznegger said. Painter suffered only minor abrasions in the crash.
Olney-Walluski Fire District Chief Ronnie Tyson tried to reason with Painter and calm him down as he and other rescuers struggled to free him from the thick mud.
"I told him the lady in the other vehicle was in a lot worse shape than he was, and he said he didn't give a damn about her, look what she did to his car," he said. "I remember that - it's one of those statements that sticks in your mind."
Tyson said Painter also told him "I was on the wrong side of the road, I caused the accident."
Stutznegger, a friend of the Guenther family for 30 years, testified that Painter said "the bitch shouldn't have been in my way" when told about the other car.
As emergency workers struggled to secure him after pulling him from the mud, Painter told one of the EMTs that he was happy that ballot Measure 28, a state income tax request, had recently failed because "that would eliminate state troopers and keep them off his back," Astoria Fire Department intern Tony Carpenter said.
Painter went limp and appeared to pass out several times after being retrieved from the mud, Carpenter said. Each time he appeared to lose consciousness, he would snap back alert and struggle violently, sometimes attempting to strike one of the rescue workers, he said.
Those episodes of unconsciousness appeared to be faked, said Astoria firefighter Robert Johnson. Painter "passed out" and came to again much more quickly than a person who actually drifts in and out of consciousness, he testified.
At one point Painter did ask about the driver of the other car, but the rescuers were deliberately vague about Guenther's condition in order not to further agitate him until they retrieved him, Carpenter said. During the ambulance ride to Columbia Memorial Hospital, Larry Jamison, a Medix paramedic, finally told Painter that Guenther was dead, and only then did he finally stop fighting and arguing, Carpenter said.
"He came to a screeching halt," he said.
Blood samples taken from Painter after the crash measured his blood-alcohol level at .28 percent, 31/2 times the legal limit. Most witnesses who came near Painter testified to smelling alcohol on his breath.
Even from the bank, Lounsberry said she could smell alcohol coming from Painter.
"With the amount of mud that was moved by the SUV, there could be only three things you should smell: fish, cow urine or mud. You could smell none of those things, all you could smell was alcohol," she said.
"I said 'whoa, this guy has had a few,'" Tyson said. "On (a scale of) 10, it was a 10."
Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Tom Dyer was asked by District Attorney Josh Marquis to indicate Painter's level of intoxication on a drawing representing a car's gas gauge. Dyer said Painter was near "full."
"I put him real close to being as drunk as you can get," he said.
Testimony in the trial is expected to wrap up Thursday.