BOISE, Idaho — When Nathan Wall drove past Madeline Duskey just after midnight Nov. 18 on Eagle Road, near Riverside Drive, he mistook the 24-year-old woman laying in the road for a mannequin.
He changed lanes, pulled over to the side of the shoulder, and then saw a pickup parked a little farther up, with a man sitting on the end of it. He stepped outside because the situation struck him as odd, but it wasn’t until the man on the pickup — later identified as 42-year-old Adam Paulson — mentioned he’d been driving the truck when the airbag went off that Wall realized what had happened.
“I said, ‘I think there’s a body in the road,’ and he said, ‘Are you serious?’” Wall remembered in court Wednesday. “And that’s when I ran back to the body.”
Wall recalled the events to a jury Wednesday, the third day of Paulson’s trial. Paulson faces one count of vehicular manslaughter in connection with Duskey’s death. Police and prosecutors say he was drunk and speeding in a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado that night. At a previous hearing, an Ada County Sheriff’s deputy testified that Paulson said he was on his way home from a date at WilliB’s Saloon, and that his blood alcohol content was as high as .174. In court Wednesday, Gabriel McCarthy, one of Paulson’s attorneys, said the man did not contest that he was guilty of driving under the influence — but Paulson did not believe he committed vehicular manslaughter.
McCarthy said Duskey was dressed in all black that night, and said most drivers would not have expected a pedestrian in the middle of Eagle Road at that hour. She’d also been drinking herself, and a subsequent police report found the light at the intersection was green, and she hadn’t pressed the streetlight’s button to cross the street — she did not have the right of way. Even a sober driver traveling at the speed limit could not have avoided the crash, McCarthy argued.
“I agree the dark clothes and the time of day are all factors that would make the victim’s presence more surprising, but that’s an (issue for the jury to decide),” said 4th District Court Judge Deborah Bail.
Scott Bandy, one of the case’s prosecutors, reminded the judge Wall also saw Duskey in the road that night, but he changed lanes to avoid hitting her.
“Not only did we prove a sober driver could possibly do it, we actually had a sober driver who did it,” Bandy said.
But the case has unknowns. Police were never able to determine when the pickup actually struck Duskey, for instance, nor were they able to pinpoint how fast she moved across Eagle Road’s lanes.
“So the walking speed of Ms. Duskey is really important,” John Blotter, an expert in mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University, told the jury. “The faster she’s walking, the less time a person would have to see and react. The slower she’s walking, the more time a person would have to see and react.”
Blotter’s testimony hinged on studies he’d read. He tore through sheets of paper on an easel explaining how Duskey’s position in the headlights would have made it easier or harder for Paulson to see her. But Paulson was speeding — a device in his car clocked his speed at 53 mph when the airbags were deployed. Had he been going the speed limit of 40 mph, Blotter said Duskey probably could have escaped the path of the truck.
What’s more, based on research Blotter read, he would have expected Paulson’s reaction time to be about 1.6 or 1.7 seconds in this situation, he said — enough time for him to start to swerve or brake.
“We should’ve been able to see some type of steering response or initialization of the braking maneuver,” Blotter said.
After prosecutors finished presenting evidence, McCarthy asked the judge to dismiss the case. She declined, late in the afternoon, and Paulson’s attorneys began to present their own evidence in the final hour of the day Wednesday.
Paulson’s trial is scheduled to last through Thursday.