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Jury begins deliberations in teen bicyclist's death

The Orange County Register: Jury begins deliberations in teen bicyclist’s death

In closing arguments, prosecution says Jeffrey Woods was driving like a "maniac’’ when he struck Danny Oates; defense argues Woods was having a seizure.

BY ANNIE BURRIS
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

SANTA ANA - A jury began deliberations Thursday in the trial of a man accused of being on two prescription drugs and texting when he struck and killed a 14-year-old bicyclist with his truck.

Orange County Deputy District Attorney Susan Price told the jury that the defense’s case was "bogus" and that Jeffrey Woods was driving like a "maniac" when he killed Danny Oates on Aug. 29, 2007, in Huntington Beach.

Price also said some of the expert witnesses the defense called were "clueless."

Defense attorney Scott Well, who has argued during the four-week trial that Woods had a seizure during the crash and was later diagnosed with epilepsy, told the jury that believing Woods was unconscious when he hit Oates was reasonable. He asked the jury to find Woods not guilty.

"He had no idea in his wildest imagination that he would have a seizure," Well said. "Would any human being who is conscious divert their car into a boy on his bicycle?"

The jury of three women and nine men got 47 pages of legal instructions from Judge Marc Kelly before beginning deliberations. The jury will resume deliberations Monday.

Woods pleaded not guilty to one felony count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated.
He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison if convicted.

During her closing arguments, Price talked about Oates, a middle school student known as "Oatie" who was involved in soccer, baseball and junior lifeguards.

"For the last three weeks he’s been referred to as ’the bicyclist,’ ’the body’ and at one point even ’the object that was propelled,’" Price said. "But this case and the reason each of you are here today is about Danny Oates."

\Members of Oates and Woods’ families filled the courtroom and hallways. Several cried during discussion of the teen’s death. Kristi Oates, his mother, sat next to her husband with her 10-year-old daughter on her lap.

"We are stressed beyond imagination," she said during a break in the trial. "It is hard for us."

Price has called expert witnesses to testify that Woods was on the prescription drugs Xanax and Vicodin and texting during the crash.

"He didn’t have a seizure, and he wasn’t paying attention. He is guilty," Price told the jury. "Anybody who has any credibility in the world of toxicology knows that there is no reasonable explanation for the driving behavior of Jeffrey Woods other than impairment."

Well had witnesses during the trial who said Woods had a seizure when he was 16 months old and again in April. One of the first witnesses who saw Woods after the crash also testified that she saw the driver "seizing or convulsing."

"When I spoke with you in opening statements four weeks ago, I spoke to you about the seizures – three seizures – because that is what this case is all about," he told the jury.

Well said a conscious person – even someone who has been drinking or taking drugs – cannot reasonably run into a brick wall, palm tree and bicyclists.

Price called the April 2009 "seizure" a "performance" and questioned why medical records of the first seizure were not produced. Price also said Woods’ parents did not mention the first seizure when they filled out a medical form after the 2007 crash but mentioned a wisdom tooth operation.

Price also reminded the jury of police officer testimony that said people in shock sometimes shake.

The impact of the accident caused the front of Woods’ car to crush in on his legs, leaving multiple fractures and exposed bone and nearly severing his foot. Woods sat in a wheelchair because of his injuries for part of the court proceedings.
Well urged the jury to resist trying to blame someone for the crash.

"The event of Aug 29, 2007, was a tragedy of the greatest magnitude," he told the jury. "It is difficult to imagine losing a child, and we feel much sympathy for the Oates family. This has also been a tragedy of the greatest magnitude for the Woods family.

"We always have something inside of us that makes us want to ... point the finger at somebody," he said.