The case against accused killer Brian Holm boils down to two things, Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jennifer Clark told a jury Wednesday.
"Choices. And consequences."
The choice in this case, she said, being Holm's drinking and driving last Nov. 9; the consequence, the death of Brian Beaver.
Holm, 51, of Missoula, is being tried on a charge of vehicular homicide while under the influence in the death Beaver, a 24-year-old tourist from Aberdeen, Wash.
The Missoula County Attorney's Office alleges Holm was drunk when his northbound car went into the southbound lanes on Brooks Street before jumping the sidewalk where Beaver was walking with two friends.
Public Defender Scott Spencer told jurors there's no question Holm drove the car that struck and killed Beaver.
"The question is whether Brian committed a criminal act in doing so," he said.
Beaver and two of his closest childhood friends were on a road trip from Aberdeen to Yellowstone National Park last fall when they stopped in Missoula for the night.
Chris Evans, 25, of Aberdeen, testified Wednesday that the trio ate three pizzas and drank a couple of beers apiece at the Brooks Street Motor Inn before deciding to walk down the street to a bar. They stopped at a gas station for cigarettes and lozenges, he said. A few minutes later, "Brian had turned and asked me if I wanted a lozenge," he said.
"I went to look at him and it was just a flash," Evans said.
A car spun past, hitting a telephone pole and spinning to a stop. Evans started toward it, thinking to help the people inside.
Then he looked back.
"I noticed Beaver was laying on the sidewalk next to the building. I dropped down beside him and realized he was hit. I started yelling, ‘9-1-1!' "
No, Evans said repeatedly in response to questions from Deputy Missoula County Attorney Shawn Thomas. He hadn't heard a car braking, nor tires screeching, nor a horn. Nathan Bialkowski, now of Goshen, Miss., who was with his friends that night, likewise testified that he'd heard nothing to indicate a car was coming.
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Missoula Police Officer Pete Woods testified that Beaver was still breathing "a little roughly" when he arrived. Beaver died shortly after arriving at Community Medical Center.
"I recall seeing his face. I wouldn't have been able to recognize him. It was pretty graphic," Woods testified as Beaver's widow, Crystal, wept audibly in the courtroom's front row.
The Ford Focus that struck the utility pole was totaled, he said.
"The passengers had to be pried out."
In questioning prospective jurors and then in their opening statements, both the prosecution and defense homed in on Holm's actions before his car struck Beaver.
Charging documents did not detail Holm's blood-alcohol content that night. On Wednesday, Clark told jurors it was 0.10 - the legal limit for driving is 0.08 - after an evening in which he shared a pitcher of beer with a friend, and then ordered a Black Velvet whiskey and Coke. The blood test also showed he had a prescription sleep aid, painkiller and antidepressant in his system, she said.
Spencer said Holm's blood wasn't tested until an hour and a half after the crash, and suggested that Holm showed no physical signs of impairment. Holm only "sipped" the whiskey and Coke, he said.
Original accounts of the case made no mention of an explanation by Holm for the crash. Holm, who was injured in the crash, has said he only recently remembers the events of that night in detail, and that he was trying to avoid a head-on collision with another vehicle.
On Tuesday, Holm made a final, unsuccessful attempt to postpone the long-delayed trial, saying Spencer was unprepared to offer a defense of stress-induced amnesia.
But on Wednesday, Spencer asked potential jurors whether any had experienced a trauma that left them unable to immediately recall exactly what had happened.
He returned to that theme in his opening statement. "Out of the blue, he's confronted with a car coming at him from the wrong lane," he said. "... He's going to tell you he wishes he could recall all the details, but he can't."
Testimony continues Thursday in the trial that could go through Monday.