Mobile doctor had milliseconds to react to other car’s turn, prosecution expert acknowledges

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 7:11 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A lawyer for a former neurosurgeon took direct aim Thursday at the prosecution’s contention that excessive speed caused a 2020 traffic accident that resulted in a young woman’s death.

Prosecution expert witness Ronnie Redding, a former state trooper who now owns an accident reconstruction consulting firm, testified that the single-vehicle crash would not have happened if defendant Jonathan Pishoi Nakhla had been driving the speed limit on the Interstate 65 service road.

Defense attorney Dennis Knizley focused on the driver of another car that turned in front of Nakhla. He replayed surveillance video that jurors saw earlier in the trial. But he slowed it down frame by frame, showing Nakla’s Audi R8 Spyder was about 25 feet away when a car driven by Christopher Davis started turning into the Comfort Inn parking lot.

Knizley suggested that even if Nakhla had been driving at 45 mph – 66 feet per second – he still would have been at severe risk of crashing.

“He has less than half a second to avoid it,” Knizley said.

Redding agreed with Knizley’s math based on the location of the two vehicles in the video. But he also testified that skid marks farther up the road indicate that Nakhla started braking earlier and would have had three times as long to react at 45 mph.

“The skid marks are part of the evidence,” he testified.

Redding also agreed under cross-examination that he could not see a turn signal on Davis’ car. That has been a point of contention during the trial. Nakhla told police the other driver did not signal; Davis testified that he did.

Knizley showed another video of Davis later leaving the parking lot. The car’s turn signal was not on at that time.

The reckless murder trial, now in its third week, is nearing the end. Prosecutor Ashley Rich told Mobile County Circuit Judge Ben Brooks that she intends to call two more witnesses. Knizley told the judge that, as of now, Nakhla does not intend to testify. That would mean testimony should wrap up Friday, with closing arguments likely to take place Monday.

On Thursday, prosecutors also presented evidence to support what they allege is the other cause of the crash – Nakhla’s intoxication.

Alabama Chief Toxicologist Curt Harper testified that, based on blood samples taken at Mobile Infirmary after the 12:40 a.m. accident, Nakhla’s blood alcohol concentration was between .11 and .125 at the time of the wreck. At that level, research indicates that drivers are five to six times as likely to be involved in a traffic accident, Harper testified.

Defense attorney Michael Whisonant confronted Harper with a number of studies casting doubt on the reliability of the so-called retrograde extrapolation analysis that the toxicologist used to estimate the defendant’s level of intoxication. Harper acknowledged that there are many assumptions that go into the calculation and that different people absorb alcohol at varying rates.

The judge agreed to take a defense witness out of order to accommodate his schedule. Dr. Harrison Pearl testified that according to his diagnosis, Nakhla had a concussion when he came to Mobile Infirmary after the accident. That contradicts testimony from Dr. Amber Gordon, who told jurors that Nakhla was exhibiting signs of intoxication, not concussion.

“In no way did I feel like alcohol influenced anything I saw in my exam,” he said. “I don’t see how it could.”

Under cross-examination, Pearl testified that he left Mobile Infirmary because of dispute with other doctors in the neurology unit over the standard of care.

Brooks told lawyers he would not keep the jury past 6 p.m. and ordered for the day. He also ordered Pearl to return Friday to continue his testimony.