Steamboat Springs 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 email@example.com