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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Prosecutor: Hunter was behind wheel during crash

SARASOTA — More than 2 1/2 hours after a fatal car crash last spring, Josh Hunter’s blood alcohol content was the equivalent of someone having 14 drinks, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.

Hunter, a former Braden River High School football coach, is on trial this week in Sarasota charged with DUI manslaughter stemming from the March 21, 2009, death of his friend Doug Garrity.

During opening statements Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Matt Sandburg told the five-woman, three-man jury that Garrity was a backseat passenger in Hunter’s Ford 150 truck during the wreck on an Interstate 75 northbound onramp in south Sarasota County.

Evidence, Sandburg said, will show the single-vehicle accident took place at about 11:45 p.m., that Hunter was behind the wheel and that his blood alcohol level — taken at about 2 a.m. the night of the wreck — registered at .21, almost three times the legal limit in Florida of .08.

“You’ll hear that someone would have had to consume at the least 14 drinks just to get to that level,” Sandburg said.

More evidence, Sandburg told jurors, will show that Hunter drove a truck carrying four passengers, that he failed to negotiate a curve and slid and crashed the truck alongside the onramp.

During the crash, Garrity was ejected from the back seat, Sandburg said, and died of blunt force trauma to the head.

Earlier in that day, from 3 to 7 p.m., Sandburg said that Hunter had been drinking at Sarasota Lanes with Garrity and two other passengers in the car, his brother James Hunter and his friend Matt Braselton.

The foursome left the bowling alley, bought more alcohol, then drove to the Nokomis home of Hunter’s friend, John Peacock III, for a party where they stayed until about 11:30 p.m., Sandburg told the jury.

“The evidence will show this defendant got into the driver side of his Ford 150, turned on the ignition and proceeded toward I-75,” Sandburg said.

Troopers who responded to the crash four miles from where the party took place will testify Hunter’s eyes were bloodshot and watery, that he had slurred speech and smelled of a strong odor of alcohol, Sandburg said.

“The state will not prove that this defendant had any malicious intent when he committed this crime, or that this isn’t a tragic event for everyone involved,” Sandburg told the jury. “But it will prove the three elements of DUI manslaughter. That on March 21, the defendant was the driver of the vehicle and that his Ford 150 truck crashed; that his blood alcohol content level was over .08; and that his impairment caused or contributed to the cause of this crash.”

Hunter’s defense attorney Brett McIntosh did not make an opening statement. Instead he reserved his right to give that statement later in trial.

Diana Perrin, a registered nurse at Doctor’s Hospital and the state’s first witness, said she drew Hunter’s blood at the request of troopers at about 2 a.m.

During cross examination, McIntosh asked her if she observed his client with any difficulty walking or following instructions during the 10 minutes she spent with him.

She said no.

McIntosh then asked if she observed anything unusual about him that morning.

“He had a very flat effect, had no emotion,” she said. “Just looked straight ahead. No smile, no nothing. Almost like a doll face.”

During the trial, expected to last through the week, prosecutors also plan to call Braselton and James Hunter, who has been jailed for two weeks on a civil contempt charge for refusing to say whether his brother was behind the wheel.

Josh Hunter faces from four to 15 years in prison if convicted of DUI manslaughter.

Testimony is slated to resume at 9 a.m. today.

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