Defendant blames weather

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A man who stands accused of two counts of murder in the 2007 accident-related deaths of his fiancée and a local nurse took the stand in his own defense Tuesday, testifying that weather conditions caused the wreck.

David Wiltshire is charged with murder in the 2007 deaths of Christy Wright Still, 34, of Evergreen, and Deanna VanGieson of Theodore. VanGieson was an orthopedic nurse who worked in Andalusia. Still was a passenger in Wiltshire’s vehicle and died at the scene. VanGieson died two days later at Andalusia Regional Hospital.

Wiltshire testified that the hood on the Chevrolet S-10 pickup he was driving would not latch, and that it was tied with a bungee cord. Windy conditions on March 1, 2007, he said, made driving under that circumstance difficult, and wet roads also were a problem.

“The pavement was slick and it had been raining,” he said. “I ran into another vehicle and that was the last I remember.”

Wiltshire said he remembered hydroplaning. He did not know until two weeks later when he woke up in a Pensacola hospital that his fiancé, Still, was dead.

“My dad was there,” he said. “He had driven in from California. I asked him, ‘Where is Christy,’ because I knew she would be there. He told me she didn’t make it.”

Wiltshire testified that he suffered a broken hip, shattered ankle, broken ribs, broken sternum, a skull fracture, hemorrhaging on the brain, and was left legally blind in one eye.

“I was not expected to make it,” he said.

On Monday, the jury heard testimony from state troopers about the statement Wiltshire gave to them after being released from the hospital in which he discussed medications he had taken the day of the wreck, but did not say that weather conditions contributed to the accident. They also heard from a witness who swerved to keep from being hit by Wiltshire, and then witnessed the accident in his rearview mirror.

On the stand Wiltshire testified that he was “real fuzzy” at the time he gave the statement and that since then, he had been able to piece together what happened.

A blood test administered on the day of the wreck showed that he tested positive for THC (marijuana), opiates, and benzodiazapene (used to treat anxiety or seizures). When he gave his statement, he told state troopers he had not used narcotics in years. However, on the stand, he said that he had used marijuana “several days” before the accident.

On cross-examination, the state established that Wiltshire was driving with a suspended license.

Defense attorney Joe Sawyer called no other witnesses and presented no evidence to document Wiltshire’s injuries, nor his claims that at the time of the accident, he was on workman’s comp for injuries sustained in a fall from a ladder at his Florida job. He said he suffered a torn rotator cuff, and was being treated for pain, depression, anxiety and seizures as a result.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Ben Baxley showed the jury photographs of the victims and said, “there can be no dispute that man caused the death of these two ladies.”

Baxley said when all of the factors are added in – driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, driving recklessly, speeding, and on the wrong side of the road – they add up to murder.

Earlier in the trial, a state trooper testified that VanGieson’s vehicle was 700 pounds heavier than Wiltshire’s, and that Wiltshire had to have been driving 73 miles per hour at the point of impact.

“One of these by itself may be manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. All together, they are murder,” Baxley said.

Sawyer said the case was “tragic and horrible” and that no one was “any sorrier” than his client, who lost the woman he loved.

“Our position is that it was an accident,” he said.

He asked the jury to “give credence” to Wiltshire’s testimony.

Arguing for the state, attorney Kelly Hawkins said that the defense presented no evidence, “just this man’s word.”

In his charge, Judge Lex Short told jurors that they could find Wiltshire guilty of murder, or of the lesser included offenses of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

The jury began deliberating at 3:40 p.m. and adjourned at about 5 p.m. They are to reconvene at 9 a.m. today, Wed., Nov. 16.