Eyewitnesses testify in county sheriff's DUI case

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— Two Routt County Sheriff's Office deputies offered conflicting opinions Tuesday about whether their boss was under the influence of alcohol the night of Oct. 27, 2007.

Sheriff Gary Wall was pulled over that night by the Colorado State Patrol for an alleged failure to dim his headlights. He was subsequently charged with that traffic infraction, DUI and prohibited use of a weapon. It is illegal to possess a weapon while under the influence of alcohol.

On Tuesday in Routt County Court, Sheriff's Office Dep. Lance Eldridge said he suspected Wall was under the influence of alcohol that night. Eldridge also said that based on his observations while driving Wall home after the traffic stop, he would have arrested him for DUI.

But Dep. Mark Mackey said Wall "looked sober to me."

Eldridge was the prosecution's final witness on the second day of Wall's jury trial. Special prosecutors Karen Romeo and Anne Francis saved their strongest witness for last. With the possible exception of testimony delivered by the two state troopers involved in the traffic stop, Eldridge's statements were the most damaging for Wall.

Eldridge said he formed his opinion based on "the totality of the circumstances," which he said included a strong odor of alcohol in Wall's county-owned Ford Explorer.

"I could tell very clearly that someone in that car had been drinking," Eldridge said.

Wall's wife, Jenny Wilson, was a passenger in the vehicle. Wall's lawyer, Steamboat Springs attorney Ron Smith, noted that Eldridge first smelled the odor of alcohol in Wall's absence.

Eldridge also said he was initially unable to start Wall's vehicle because the sheriff had left it in a driving gear rather than the parking gear. Eldridge said his suspicions also were raised by what he described as Wall's "mood swings." Eldridge said Wall went on an angry tirade and called the incident a "(expletive) traffic stop."

"He clearly believed at the time : that he had been set up by State Patrol," Eldridge said.

Smith requested an acquittal on all three charges after the prosecution rested, saying Romeo and Francis had failed to present enough evidence. Senior Judge Cecil Wayne Williams denied the request.

Smith called witnesses after Eldridge's testimony.

The defense attorney began with a parade of guests who attended the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's centennial celebration, from which Wall was returning home when he was pulled over.

Witnesses for the defense said they did not observe any of the signs of intoxication that troopers Melissa Fowler and Brett Hilling say Wall exhibited after he was pulled over.

Hilling said troopers observed eight indicators of impairment, including a strong odor of alcohol on Wall's breath; red, watery and bloodshot eyes; and speech that was muted and unlike Wall's usual speech.

"I believe he was intoxicated," Hilling said. "I believe he was substantially incapable of safely operating a vehicle."

'Stone cold sober'

Smith countered with 17 witnesses who were guests at the Chamber celebration. The witnesses spoke to Wall that night, embraced him, shared a dinner table or watched him dance with Wilson, among other insights shared in court Tuesday. Many of the witnesses described Wall as "stone cold sober." The sheriff's defense rests on a claim that he had only one glass of red wine at the celebration before getting in his car to drive home. Several of the witnesses acknowledged being friends or acquaintances of Wall.

Susan Dellinger, who was president of the Steamboat Springs City Council at the time, said she hugged Wall before she left Sidney Peak Ranch just before 9 p.m. Dellinger said she has never drank alcohol and is sensitive to its smell. She said she did not smell any alcohol on Wall, who was pulled over about 10:15 p.m.

Tuesday's proceedings concluded with the testimony by Mackey, who followed Eldridge as he took Wall and Wilson home, then gave Eldridge a ride back to his patrol vehicle.

Mackey said the four had a 15-minute conversation in front of Wilson's home in the Silver Spur subdivision.

"We were having a normal, clear conversation," Mackey said.

Mackey said he did not observe any signs of Wall being intoxicated. But under cross-examination by Romeo, Mackey admitted the situation was awkward and that he did not try or even want to form an opinion about whether Wall was drunk.

"I could not tell whether he was under the influence of alcohol or not," Mackey said.

Wall has not taken the witness stand, but he told Williams on Tuesday that he intends to. The trial is scheduled to conclude today.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

otis 6 years, 5 months ago

I sure hope justice prevails and this so-called leader of law enforcement gets his day in jail where he belongs. Great example, Gary. Deny, deny, deny.

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Benny 6 years, 5 months ago

It's terrible that Lance Eldridge and Mark Mackey have been placed in this position.

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summerbird 6 years, 5 months ago

Did English change since I was in school?

Dellinger said she has never drank alcohol and is sensitive to its smell.

Pick the correct one:

drink - drank - drank drink - drank - dranked drink - drank - drunk

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grannyrett 6 years, 5 months ago

summerbird-Who cares. Why sweat the small stuff? All of us are not English majors and most of us don't give a flip about how she phrased it.

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cclamo 6 years, 5 months ago

Guess it will remain to be seen if Eldridge loses his job over this. Wouldn't surprise me.

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justathought 6 years, 5 months ago

Mackey admitted the situation was awkward and that he did not try or even want to form an opinion about whether Wall was drunk. "I could not tell whether he was under the influence of alcohol or not," Mackey said.

SOUNDS TO ME LIKE HE'S COVERING HIS BUTT AND POSSIBLY TRYING TO PROTECT HIS JOB. What a defense for anyone pulled over for a DUI by Mackey now, he has basically stated he can't tell when someone's under the influence which he's supposed to be trained for.

Susan Dellinger says she's sensitive to the smell of alcohol and she smelled none on Wall, Wall admitted to drinking wine, guess Dellinger's not as sensitive to alcohol as she thought.

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dundalk 6 years, 5 months ago

a couple of interests that were piqued after reading this article. mackey states that the "4 of them had a 15 minute conversation" upon returning to Wilson's home.

in previous pilot articles, it has been eluded to, in spades, that Ms. Wilson was the one who was intoxicated and that the odor in the vehicle was not from Wall but his gal pal.

so how is it that a deputy can testify as to the normal conversation he had when one of the parties there have been alleged and/or asserted to being highly intoxicated?

i've been driving for almost 33 years and I just don't understand how someone can forget to put their car in park and then turn off the engine. I vaguely recall that during the POST trainings, learning how to drive a law vehicle is sort of a mandatory part of the cirriculum. Did Wall ever get his POST license, or did he just skip over "driving for dummies"?

also, given the list of witnesses for Wall, I am sorry I missed the soiree! I would have loved to have seen Wall's witness entourage following his every step during his evening at Sydney Ranch! Are we to really believe that each and every witness was with Wall every second and then, with clean and honest mind, testify that he only had one glass of red wine? And the report of clear liquid...who can say if Wall doesn't carry a little flask of everclear just to top off his red wine elixir?

Just questions I had after reading the article. But hey...

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Benny 6 years, 5 months ago

Of course Mackey is going to try and save his job. He would probably have a hard time getting another law enforcement job elsewhere. However, I don't think any of the sheriff's office employees should have to be in a position to testify against or in favor of their boss. Gary should hang his head in shame that he is putting two of his employees through this. Now, Lance has resigned. Kudos to him for being a man of integrity.

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CoJustice 6 years, 5 months ago

Dundalk, not placing your vehicle "in park" is a frightening thought. I am glad the vehicle did not roll, and put at risk innocent victims and officers on scene.

Benny, I agree, Kudos to Lance.

My Bingo card is nearly full!

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Benny 6 years, 5 months ago

"I could not tell whether he was under the influence of alcohol or not," Mackey said.

To me that's just a good way of saying: "I don't want to answer this question so I'm just gonna ride the fence on this one."

Pick a side Mackey and stand behind what you believe.

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kusellout 6 years, 5 months ago

I hope the jury keeps in mind that the testimony from folks at the party doesn't really matter. Someone could be "stone cold sober" at 7pm when people saw him and "totally drunk" at 9pm. What matters is (1) that he was stopped for failure to dim his headlights (valid traffic stop) and (2) based on behavior witnessed by the stopping officer, was deemed to be drunk (smell, slurred speech, etc) and then refused a breathalyzer to disprove that. Nothing else matters! How many times have people used the "I only had one drink" excuse and the judge/jury not believe that line. If this judge/jury chooses to believe it, I will be extremely disappointed in our community.

By the way, where is MADD in all this?

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