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By Felix Adamo / The Californian
BY RUTH BROWN California staff writer email@example.com
An expert witness testified Friday during the sixth day of a 22-year-old woman's trial for allegedly speeding and texting prior to hitting and killing a motorcyclist, that even "a reasonably attentive" driver in the same situation would not have struck a vehicle with such ferocious impact.
Sheila Klauer, a research scientist for the Virgina Tech Transportation Institute and an expert in distracted and fatigued driving, said motorcycles usually are hit when they enter blind spots while in motion, saying her research data supports it.
"(Drivers) don't run into things that are right in front of them unless they aren't looking," she said. "They don't."
The driver, Anna Marie Reynosa, struck and killed 20-year-old Charla Wilkins on the night of April 14, 2012 while the motorcycle was stopped at the intersection of Jewetta Avenue and Reina Road.
Reynosa faces up to six years in prison if convicted of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
Police estimated Reynosa was traveling 63-68 mph at impact in a 45 mph zone. Evidence shows she never applied her brakes. Wilkin's sport motorcycle was upright and embedded in the front of the truck with about a third of it underneath.
Much of Friday's testimony revolved around a study Klauer headed on contributing factors to accidents. In many of the accidents, she said, cellphone use was not a contributing factor.
However, Klauer, a prosecution witness, testified drivers are seven to eight times more likely to have an accident when reaching for a cellphone.
In more than 90 percent of rear-end accidents the driver's eyes were not on the road, Klauer said.
In an audiotape of an interview with police after the accident that was played in court Thursday, Reynosa admitted her attention was on her phone just prior to the accident.
Klauer said the actions Reynosa is believed to have taken the evening of the accident demonstrated "an extremely high-risk behavior."
In earlier testimony Friday, former Kern County Sheriff's forensic pathologist Dr. Greg Pizarro said Wilkins suffered injuries consistent with a collision of a vehicle traveling more than 60 mph.
He said victim Wilkins suffered multiple fractures of her tibia, fibula, femur and humerus as well as extensive scrapes and road-rash.
But what killed her was a compression of the spinal cord so extensive it almost decapitated her, Pizarro said.
Deputy Public Defender Ernest Hinman questioned Pizarro about his experience examining victims of motorcycle accidents and the number of autopsies he'd conducted on motorcycle crash victims.
Pizarro said he'd performed less than 10 autopsies in Kern County on motorcycle accident victims involving more than one vehicle, such as the accident that killed Wilkins.
In his cross-examination of Klauer, Hinman asked if Reynosa just may not have seen the motorcycle, a vehicle much smaller than her Toyota Tacoma and with a vertical, rather than horizontal, profile.
"Yes, a motorcycle is more difficult to see," Klauer said.
On re-direct, prosecutor Esther Schlaerth asked Klauer if the accident could have been avoided.
"A reasonably aware driver does not run into obstacles in front of them," Klauer said.
Schlaerth persisted: "Even if she wasn't speeding, if she wasn't manipulating her phone and she was looking and did see the motorcycle, why is it that your opinion (on the accident) doesn't change?"
Klauer responded in a matter-of-fact tone.
"Because her speed didn't change as she approached the intersection," she said.