New details revealed in crash that killed Lt. Dahlem

August 06. 2007 6:01AM

Describing
the scene of a crash that killed a Gainesville Police lieutenant
earlier this year, witnesses told officers the pickup’s driver had been
on a cell phone, was driving too fast for the area and should have been
able to see the officer who was in the lit roadway of the closed
street, a Florida Highway Patrol report stated.


The State
Attorney’s Office released details recently of the case against Austin
Wright, 21, a University of North Florida student accused of
manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol for fatally
injuring Lt. Corey Dahlem on April 2. Based on a records request from
The Sun, prosecutors released information including FHP’s traffic
homicide investigation and a tape showing Wright performing sobriety
tests.


The report included comments from three people riding
with Wright at the time of the crash. One woman in the pickup said the
crash was due to Wright’s "carelessness and stupidity" and because he
wasn’t paying attention.


Shortly before 3 a.m., Wright had been
driving west on W. University Avenue, which had been shut to traffic
because of a celebration after the University of Florida’s national
basketball championship victory. Dahlem, 45, had been crossing the
street when the pickup hit him at the intersection of NW 17th Street.


Wright has entered a not guilty plea in the case. In letters to both the police report and Dahlem’s family, Wright apologized.


"I
accept responsibility for my actions and I want you to know that I
would do anything to take back what has happened," Wright said in one
letter, which was included in records gathered by prosecutors.


A
few witnesses told troopers that Wright was talking on a cell phone as
he passed through the NW 17th Street intersection where Dahlem was
struck.


Troopers interviewed several people who were cleaning
the street when the crash occurred. Laurie Caldwell Goolsby Jr. said he
was operating a Florida Department of Transportation forklift and that
it appeared the pickup slowed down after the collision, then "floored
it."


Most of the people interviewed on the street said the road
was well lit by street lights and that the pickup had been driving fast
for the area.


Alphonso Hicks, who was working for the city of
Gainesville at the time of the crash, told officers others had to run
out of the road to avoid the pickup and "other people were lucky that
no one else was struck."


A blood test showed Wright had a blood
alcohol level of 0.271, troopers reported. Under state law, a reading
of 0.08 establishes a case of driving under the influence.


A
video taken from a patrol car shows a trooper asking Wright to perform
sobriety tests, including walking a straight line and slowly reciting
the alphabet. The tape lasts about 13 minutes and takes place in an
unidentified parking garage.


Wright can be seen taking the tests
on the film. But a report from the trooper stated Wright didn’t
successfully complete them. While being asked to walk a straight line
and turn, he couldn’t touch heel to toe, hesitated on his steps and
needed to raise his arms for balance although he was told to keep them
by his side. The trooper also said Wright was wobbling when he was told
to stand on one leg for 30 seconds.


Wright can be heard talking
on the tape although most of what he says isn’t clear. At one point,
when asked by the trooper to stand on one leg, he tells the officer
he’s an athlete.


The trooper’s notes described the odor of the
alcoholic beverage from Wright as "strong." His attitude was listed as
"talkative," "carefree" and "cocky." His eyes were "bloodshot" and
"watery" and his face was "flushed."


Troopers weren’t able to
determine specifically where Wright had been before the deadly crash
involving Dahlem, according to their report. Wright had been in
Gainesville at a post-game celebration, the report stated. Three
passengers riding with him told officers it had been located a few
blocks north of University Avenue in a parking lot of an unknown
business.


Riding with Wright was Norman Berry Taylor, 19, of
Venice, Shelley Ann Floyd, 19, of Atlantic Beach and Jamie Lynn Mullis,
19, of Jacksonville, according to the report.


Floyd told
officers she didn’t know the road had been closed, knew the pickup had
struck "something" but didn’t know what and that she believed the crash
occurred because Wright didn’t see Dahlem standing in the roadway.


Taylor
said he met Wright after watching the basketball game, was unsure he
had had any alcoholic beverages and felt a jolt from the impact but
didn’t see the collision because he had been looking back at the two
women in the pickup.


Mullis said she met up with Wright and the
others behind "Gator City." When the crash occurred, Mullis said she
told Wright, "Austin, pull over, pull over."


He turned onto NW 19th Street and was stopped by police.


Mullis
also told officers the crash occurred due to "carelessness and
stupidity" and because the driver was "not paying attention."


Wright’s
attorney, Larry Turner, declined to comment on the details of the
investigation Saturday, saying it was not appropriate at this time to
discuss the case and the evidence.


No trial date has been set in
Wright’s case. A case management hearing is scheduled for Aug. 20 at
the Alachua County criminal courthouse.


Lise Fisher can be reached at 352-374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

Copyright 2007, The Gainesville Sun.

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