PARIS — A Bowdoin College professor, testifying on behalf of manslaughter defendant Kristina Lowe on Tuesday, said the Maine State Police accident reconstructionist got his numbers wrong in calculating the angle and speed of Lowe’s car as it flew through the air toward a stand of trees.

Lowe, 21, of West Paris is on trial in Oxford County Superior Court, facing two charges of vehicular manslaughter, two charges of aggravated criminal operating under the influence and one charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident that killed West Paris residents Rebecca Mason, 16, and Logan Dam, 19, on Jan. 7, 2012.

Last week, Trooper Daniel Hanson testified that, based on his training of reconstruction mapping and calculations, Lowe was driving a borrowed 2002 Subaru Impreza 75 mph along a straight portion of Route 219 in West Paris when she lost control of the car. He testified that the car was traveling 71 mph when it went airborne, rolling roof-first into a stand of trees.

That portion of road is zoned for 50 mph.

But according to Dale Syphers, who holds a doctorate in physics and is a Bowdoin College physics professor, it was physically “impossible” for the speed of the car to have topped more than 57 mph as it went airborne.

“The problem with a reconstructionist who has taken a course but does not have a background in physics is that they don’t take into consideration the torque of the vehicle and other forces on the vehicle” in calculating speed, Syphers said.

Defense attorney Chelsea Peters pointed out that Hanson had used published data to identify this particular car’s center mass as the basis for his calculations, but Syphers dismissed the published data as wrong. “A car is not a block of wood,” Syphers said, testifying that the published data used incorrect car measurements as if all cars were square-cornered blocks.

Using a laser pointer on a split-screen photo that showed the back-ends of two white Imprezas, Syphers showed how industry-published data measures the height of the car from the side fender straight up to the top edge of the roof, but because the top of the car curves inward, some of that measured space is empty and has no mass. The better measurement, which Syphers said he uses, is to measure from the top edge of the roof down through the car, which changes the position of the center mass and changes the math used to calculate the trajectory of a car.

Syphers also questioned Hanson’s use of three different degrees of angle for different parts of the car as it left the ground, saying that the angle should be the same for all points. He put that at 7 degrees; Hanson had accounted for the three points at the front, center and rear as the car started its spin and used a 6-degree takeoff angle in his calculation.

Hanson calculated that, after leaving the ground, the Impreza traveled 58.2 horizontal feet before it hit a stand of trees, but Syphers testified that Hanson’s measurements of where the vehicle left the road were off by about 3 feet. That, coupled with the difference in angle and speed, means the car traveled 53.3 feet horizontally before hitting the tree, Syphers testified.

His testimony, which included two model cars used to demonstrate how the Lowe car twirled before it crashed, ended just before 4 p.m.

Assistant District Attorney Joseph O’Connor will begin his cross-examination when the trial enters its sixth day at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Early in the day Tuesday, prosecutors O’Connor and ADA Richard Beauchesne rested their case against Lowe. They had presented three days of testimony, much of which included testimony that Lowe was drinking for hours before the fatal accident and that she told her friends how sorry she was that she had been texting and driving at the time of the crash.

To begin his defense, Lowe’s attorney, James Howaniec, called three witnesses to the stand, all medical personnel who treated Lowe in the hours after the accident. Each of the witnesses testified that Lowe seemed to be alert and aware of her surroundings and none saw any evidence that she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

This testimony of a compliant, sober Lowe was very different from the testimony previously offered by party-goers that she had been acting loud and rambunctious at a party at Dam’s house on Yeaton Lane in West Paris before the accident.

The nurse who first treated Lowe at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway told Howaniec that Lowe spoke clearly and followed directions well while being evaluated in the emergency department. That nurse administered Lowe three doses of morphine between 3:05 and 4 a.m.; Lowe arrived at the hospital at 2:10 a.m. and was not given pain relief until after she’d had a CT and X-rays.

Erin LaRochelle, a registered nurse and the nursing supervisor in the ER when Lowe was brought in, made a note in Lowe’s medical record that Lowe said she had “walked 1.5 miles back to the house to call 911 because she lost her phone in the wreck and her two friends were still in the car.”

Her nursing notes also mentioned that Lowe admitted she had been drinking at a party, but LaRochelle didn’t remember any behavior that indicated she was intoxicated.

Lowe’s blood was drawn to test for alcohol and drug use while she was at Stephens, more than two hours after the accident; the results later showed her blood alcohol content was 0.04 percent and she tested positive for marijuana.

Maine Medical Center surgeon Dr. John Thomas also testified Tuesday that he didn’t see any evidence that Lowe was under the influence of alcohol after she was transferred there, and further testified that he didn’t think it was a good idea for Lowe to answer questions from police after having received four doses of morphine and two doses of fentanyl for treatment of pain between 3:05 and 5:35 a.m. on Jan. 7.

Lowe spoke with state Trooper Lauren Edstrom at Maine Med from 5:53 to 6:27 a.m. on Jan. 7.

Morphine can affect a person’s thought process, Thomas testified. “I would not recommend making important decisions under the influence of morphine.”

Later in his testimony, Thomas told the jury that the amount of pain medicine administered to Lowe at Stephens Memorial Hospital, in the ambulance on the way to Maine Med and at Maine Med would have “affected the reliability” of her responses to police questions.

According to hospital records, Lowe was given the fourth dose of morphine about 18 minutes before she consented to an audiotaped interview with Edstrom. During that interview, Lowe could be heard telling Edstrom that she knew she was too drunk to drive because she’d had two shots of Jagermeister liquor, and that Jacob Skaff of South Paris was driving the car at the time of the crash. But, when Edstrom pressed her multiple times on who was driving, Lowe said that the two might have changed seats after stopping at The Big Apple in West Paris to buy cigarettes and gas just before the crash.

She asked Edstrom if police would be talking to her friends at the party because she didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. The party was held at 12 Yeaton Lane in West Paris.

During the Thomas testimony, Howaniec made a strong point that Lowe was an 18-year-old girl, traumatized by a car accident and suffering severe lower back pain when she arrived at Maine Med. He asked the doctor several times whether her circumstances were too overwhelming, coupled with the high doses of pain med, for her to reliably answer police questions.

Thomas acknowledged that, under the circumstances, Lowe’s judgment could very likely have been affected and that she would still have been under what he termed the “mind-altering” effects of the fentanyl during the Edstrom interview.

Under cross-examination, O’Connor asked Thomas why, if Lowe was not capable of making decisions about police questions, she had been asked to discuss and give consent for her medical treatment, which included urgent back surgery to repair multiple broken vertebrae in her lower back. According to the surgical notes of Dr. Mathew Hamonko, Lowe “expressed understanding” of her injuries and the surgery and signed the consent form.

Thomas said the discussion about her health care did not require the same kind of “thoughtful process” needed to face police questioning, and that Lowe was likely too shocked and stressed to respond to police reliably.

“You didn’t know the circumstances of the crash or what other people observed (before treating Lowe)?” O’Connor asked Thomas. “Correct.”

O’Connor told Thomas that Lowe’s responses to Trooper Edstrom matched her earlier responses to other police officers, including that she admitted drinking and denied driving, and that perhaps that kind of “consistency would potentially indicate reliability” even if a person was shocked. The doctor agreed.

O’Connor asked Thomas whether he, as the attending physician, had the authority to stop the Lowe interview with Edstrom had he wanted. Thomas said that he could have, if it were medically necessary, but, “I did not intervene.”

The defense also called William Newmeyer to testify about a crash he had four hours after the Lowe crash. He had been driving through a curve in the road that was about 2 miles from the Lowe crash scene and lost control on black ice while going about 40 mph in a 25-mph zone.

Beauchesne asked Newmeyer whether the roads had been treated, as several Maine State Police officers had earlier testified, and Newmeyer said he did not remember because the accident happened so long ago.

Howaniec also called Russell Murley of Pownal, a meteorologist who consults on forensic meteorology, to testify about the likely weather conditions in West Paris on the night of the crash.

Using archived radar, data from the National Climatic Data Center and weather readings from Turner, Hartford, Bethel, Fryeburg, Auburn and Augusta, Murley testified that he reconstructed the weather on the day of the accident and that there had been a minor winter weather event the morning of Jan. 6, with a warm front bringing in light to moderate snow to West Paris. He estimated one to two inches of snowfall that morning.

When the snow got packed down by traffic and stayed frozen under cloud cover, by midnight the “conditions were ripe for black ice” at the crash site, he said.

As night fell, Murley said, there was a rapid temperature drop to about 18 degrees and the skies started to clear. But, he said, the humidity was still clinging to the air and the cold forced the moisture to settle on the road. “There are two, three, maybe four nights a winter season when we get this set-up,” he testified, “and this was a perfect night for black ice conditions.”

In his cross-examination, O’Connor asked Murley whether he’d observed the road himself or had spoken to any police officers who responded to the crash, traveling over the posted speed limits to get there. Hurley said he had not. He said his testimony was based on 28 years of experience studying weather patterns in the Northeast. He told O’Connor he was not aware any of the responding officers had previously testified that the road conditions were “fine.”

The trial is expected to last through Wednesday.


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