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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Hunter witness: I don’t know who was driving

SARASOTA — A friend of a man on trial for DUI manslaughter told the jury Wednesday that he couldn’t remember who was driving the truck in the crash.

Josh Hunter, former head football coach at Braden River High School, is on trial, charged in the death of his friend, assistant coach Doug Garrity. Authorities believe Hunter was behind the wheel of his Ford 150 truck March 21, 2009, when he lost control of the vehicle on the northbound on-ramp of Interstate 75 in south Sarasota County.

Garrity, who was a back-seat passenger, was ejected. He died of blunt force trauma to the head.

The trial featured testimony Wednesday from Florida Highway Patrol Trooper George Yock and a passenger, Matt Braselton, who is an assistant football coach at Southeast High and a friend of Hunter.

As part of its case, the prosecution is attempting to prove Hunter was driving at the time of the accident.

Yock testified Wednesday that Braselton told him shortly after the accident that the vehicle was driven by Josh Hunter.

However, Braselton told the court Wednesday that he doesn’t remember who was driving Hunter’s Ford 150, despite written and verbal statements he made to troopers placing Hunter behind the wheel.

“Josh was driving truck,” Braselton read from his own written statement in court.

Hunter’s brother, James Hunter, also a passenger in the truck, once again refused to testify before Circuit Court Judge Donna Berlin, saying he didn’t want testify against his brother.

James Hunter has been in jail since April 27 on a charge of civil contempt, and with some family members tearing up, Berlin on Wednesday found him guilty of criminal contempt. If he does not change his mind, prosecutors are asking for a six-month jail sentence.

Berlin said she would sentence James Hunter at 9 a.m. Friday.

The day of the crash

According to testimony, the four men in the accident spent most of the day together on March 21, 2009. They left a school fundraising function at Sarasota Lanes bowling alley that afternoon. Then they purchased alcohol before driving to Nokomis to a party hosted by Venice High head football Coach John Peacock III, Braselton testified.

The crash occurred after the four left the party in Hunter’s Ford 150 extended cab.

Braselton, who was in the front passenger seat, said he began drinking early that afternoon, consuming cocktails, beers and shots.

“I believe I got in first. I was told later I was assisted into the truck,” he said. “I was kind of passed out in that seat.”

It wasn’t until someone yelled that Braselton said he woke up to see what appeared to be a deer or a hog in the path of the truck. He reacted by leaning to the left, grabbing on to the driver’s arm and crouching down, he said in court.

“The truck swerves and does something violent,” he said.

Art Jackman, an assistant state attorney, asked, “You say you could see an animal in the roadway, but you couldn’t see the driver?”

Braselton said his head was down and he was intoxicated.

“I don’t know if you have ever been in a car crash, but everything happens quick,” he said.

Yock also testified that shortly after the accident, Josh Hunter’s breath smelled of alcohol and his eyes were watery and bloodshot.

Troopers did not perform a field-sobriety test of Josh Hunter at the scene of the accident, but his blood was drawn about two-and-a-half hours later.

Results showed he had a blood-alcohol content of .21, almost three times the legal limit of .08 in Florida, according to authorities.

Under defense cross-examination, Yock testified that Josh Hunter did not stagger or otherwise appear physically impaired. He also followed troopers’ instructions, according to Yock.

As a part of Braselton’s testimony, he said never saw Hunter consume any alcohol that day.

If convicted, Hunter could receive 15 years in prison.

The trial, which is expected to last through early next week, resumes today at 9 a.m.

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