Accident reconstruction specialist presents animation of fatal crash
By Ruth Ann Krause Post-Tribune correspondent September 10, 2012 10:38PM
Updated: September 11, 2012 7:20AM
Lake Superior Court jurors heard a full day of testimony from a defense witness who created an animation video to demonstrate what a Valparaiso man saw when he crashed his SUV into the rear bumper of a service truck and killed the repairman.
Prosecutors have alleged that Jeffery Allen Cleary. 66, was drunk — with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.15 percent — at the time of the Nov. 4, 2010, crash that killed Phillip Amsden, 63, of Hebron, who was repairing a flat tractor trailer tire on the shoulder of southbound Interstate 65 near the ramp from Ridge Road.
Despite argument from deputy prosecutor Michael Toth that “everything in that animation is speculation and conjecture,” Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr., allowed Stephan Neese to testify to his findings and play the video on a flat-screen TV for the jury as a demonstration.
Neese, a retired Schererville police sergeant who began a second career as an accident reconstruction consultant, was critical of the state’s evidence that he said omitted some key measurements, including the proper dimensions for the service truck Amsden drove that night. Defense attorney Tom Mullins had Neese circle in red marker every detail that was omitted or in error, in Neese’ opinion.
Under the defense theory, Neese said he relied on photographs of the damage to the two vehicles and a scale drawing by Indiana State Police to place the service vehicle at a slight angle behind the disabled semi rig, with the back end close to the fog line that separates the shoulder from the far right lane.
On Neese’s animated video, Cleary’s Land Rover strikes the left rear bumper of the service truck, a modified Ford F350 with a lift gate, sending the SUV rotating counter-clockwise and pushing the service truck clockwise slightly and into the semi. Amsden, a married father of two, was crushed.
Neese pointed out “scuff marks” on the pavement — one next to the fog line that he said was left by the right front tire of Cleary’s SUV, which landed on the driver’s side in the next lane to the left, and a second from the left rear tire of the service truck on the shoulder.
Cleary testified three semis were traveling in quick succession as he was entering the highway at about 30 mph. The third semi was straddling the far outside lane, leaving him no room to avoid striking Amsden’s truck.
Toth argued that Neese based his calculations in the video on a speed of nearly 47 mph and noted that the data supporting Neese’s video showed the service truck, which was parked, had been traveling at 6 mph. Neese had no explanation for that mathematical enigma other than to call it a flaw in the reporting process, but noted that the video clearly showed the truck was stopped at the time of impact.
Prosecutors have presented evidence that Cleary had the equivalent of 18 shots of alcohol during a six-hour business lunch on the day of the crash.
The case is expected to go to the jury on Tuesday after prosecutors planned to present rebuttal evidence.