Gemily West hobbled to the witness stand with a leg that still gives her some very bad days and a memory that flashed back Monday to the most gruesome night of her life.
She and her boyfriend, Harison Long-Randall, had just exercised her dogs on a warm summer night in Carmichael. Walking home, they saw a pair of southbound headlights several blocks up Garfield Avenue. The speed limit was 35 and they had a stop sign and a crosswalk. West said they stepped into the street with her four Australian cattle dogs at heel – her “babies,” she called them.
Before she and Long-Randall were halfway across the street, West said, she noticed the car again, and now it was coming fast. She thought it was preparing to turn right on Engle Road. Then it angled suddenly toward the two of them. It crashed through a stop sign and sped right at her and Long-Randall at what some witnesses described as freeway-like speeds.
“The lights changed (direction), and that got our attention,” West told the the Sacramento Superior Court jury. “And then the stop sign goes flying in the air.” Long-Randall yelled something, she said, and then, “He grabbed me from behind by my arms, and he tried to shove me forward. It was a hug and a shove, to try and get me out of the way The last thing I remember was the feeling of his touching me and the sound of the engine.”
Momentarily knocked unconscious by the speeding car the night of the July 16, 2012, collision, West said she woke up to see her boyfriend struggling to get on his feet, an effort that had been rendered impossible, she said, when “I realized his leg was over here, in the gutter” – some 65 feet away, according to the evidence. Her four dogs were strewn down the street, dead.
Thirteen days after the crash, Long-Randall, who was 21 and had been going with West for eight months, died of his injuries. As a result of his death, prosecutors filed second-degree murder charges against the purported heroin addict driving the 1987 Nissan Maxima. Paul William Walden, 32, also is facing a gross vehicular manslaughter count as well as additional charges of driving without a license, driving under the influence at the time of his arrest three days after the crash and driving without a license then as well as the night he swerved into West and Long-Randall on Garfield at Engle.
Walden’s attorney, Michael Long, did not dispute in his opening statement Monday in front of Judge Patrick Marlette that his client was behind the wheel of the Maxima. The lawyer told the jury Walden had fallen asleep while driving at the time of the 10 p.m. wreck and did not have the time to form the mental state necessary to sustain a murder conviction. Walden dozed off, Long said, after having driven across country for four days to Sacramento from Boone, N.C., where he had been visiting a girlfriend.
California Highway Patrol officers were unable to establish whether Walden was under the influence at the time he ran into Long-Randall and West. Sacramento prosecutors still filed the murder count on Walden under the theory that his wanton behavior behind the wheel rose to a level of implied malice.
In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Kari Reeve told the jury that according to witnesses who saw the crash, Walden never slowed down as he approached the Engle Road intersection on Garfield and that his brake lights never illuminated as he continued south on his way to running another stop sign at Whitney Avenue.
“There was never an intent to stop,” Reeve said.
Walden’s issue, the prosecutor said, was heroin. Reeve said in her trial brief that Walden made “dozens” of phone calls to people the prosecutor described in her opening statement as the defendant’s “drug buddies,” beginning when he hit Auburn on his way back from North Carolina, asking them where he could find some heroin.
“He was back in town, and he needed to hook up for some stuff,” Reeve told the jury.
Reeve said two of Walden’s heroin friends are slated to testify, beginning Tuesday. She said they’ll say that Walden was “desperate to get ‘well,’ ” or relieve himself of the withdrawal symptoms of coming off of heroin. “They will tell you what that means,” Reeve said, that their lives revolve around staying “well.”
After the collision at Garfield and Engle, Walden met up at his mother’s house in North Highlands with the two witnesses. When one of them asked about the damage to his car, he told them, “A guy and his dogs stopped out in front of my car,” according to Reeve. The three of them then all injected some heroin and went to sleep, Reeve said.
The day after he was arrested, Walden told his mother in a recorded jailhouse conversation that he believed he was going “a little fast” when he hit Long-Randall and West. He estimated his speed at 65 miles per hour, Reeve told the jury.
“It’s not like I expected them to be in the road at 10 o’clock at night,” he said in the conversation, according to court papers filed by the defense in the case. “I kind of dozed off for a split second and woke up, and then, yeah I hit something and I didn’t know what it was. Well, apparently it was two people and dogs.”
Gemily West told the jury the last thing she remembered “was being blinded by the lights.” She remembered the engine of Walden’s car revving past her, “full throttle,” before it ran her over and broke her leg in two places and tore into her calf muscle.
She testified about looking over at Long-Randall, while he was lying in the crosswalk.
At first, “He appeared to be OK,” she said. “Then my vision got better.”