By Craig Kapitan
Friday, September 7, 2012
Despite having caused the deaths of a married couple on a tandem bicycle three years ago, Gilbert John Sullaway Jr. has a reputation for being peaceful and law-abiding, his priest and other acquaintances said Thursday as testimony concluded in his criminally negligent homicide trial.
Jurors, who have been listening to testimony in the 144th state District Court since last week, are expected to begin deliberating today after closing arguments.
Sullaway, 43, could face up to 10 years in prison if jurors agree with prosecutors that the Oct. 1, 2009, wreck along a rural stretch of Texas 16 west of San Antonio amounts to a felony because he failed to maintain his speed, keep a proper lookout or maintain his lane.
The road, popular among bicyclists because of its wide paved shoulder, that day attracted Gregory and Alexandra Bruehler. The couple were killed, struck from behind by Sullaway’s Ford F-150 pickup, and left behind a daughter, then 7.
“Gilbert is a very generous and kind individual,” said Father Carlos Davalos, a priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Helotes, before prosecutors objected. “He’s a morally law abiding person.”
Davalos was joined by a San Antonio firefighter who is a fellow parishioner and Sullaway’s former employer in testifying on his behalf. The witnesses, however, were allowed only to comment on Sullaway’s reputation without elaboration, making their trips to the witness stand quick.
The bulk of Thursday’s testimony consisted of the ongoing duel between two accident reconstruction experts hired by the defense and by the district attorney’s office. The two have been trading places on the witness stand since last Friday.
Prosecution expert Tim Lovett has calculated Sullaway was driving between 53 and 64 mph when he hit the couple from behind, but that was after running off the pavement at an estimated 79 mph and braking for 168 feet as he swerved back onto the shoulder. The speed limit there was 65 mph.
Defense expert Charles Ruble had a similar estimation for Sullaway’s speed at the moment of impact: between 54 and 57 mph. But he disputed contentions that Sullaway ever veered off the pavement or braked at all.
There were also no signs of gravel on the road, which would have been an indicator that Sullaway’s truck went off and back onto the pavement, Ruble said. To emphasize the point, defense attorney Mark Stevens on Wednesday submitted into evidence a bag of gravel collected from the side of the road.
“There ought to be marks all over there in the grass and turf,” Ruble contended, adding that some parallel skid marks noted by authorities on the paved shoulder didn’t match the 6-foot-5 width of Sullaway’s truck.
Lovett, meanwhile, said his counterpart used some wrong formulas — including one that assumed Sullaway was driving on thick grass one might see in a yard instead of the thinner variety seen on a roadside.
Eyewitnesses and even Sullaway himself said his truck veered off the roadway, prosecutor Lorina Rummel pointed out during cross-examination of the defense expert.
Sullaway, who told authorities he was looking over at a new fire station when the wreck occurred, declined to testify on his own behalf. He was not drunk, on medication or using his cellphone, prosecutors have acknowledged.