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Hartzler v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia

June 30, 2015

HARTZLER
v.
THE STATE

Page 739

Vehicular homicide, etc. Dawson Superior Court. Before Judge Oliver.

Matthew G. Leipold, for appellant.

Lee Darragh, District Attorney, Burke O. Doherty, Assistant District Attorney, for appellee.

DILLARD, Judge. Ellington, P. J., and McFadden, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 740

Dillard, Judge.

A jury convicted Colon Louis Hartzler of two counts of homicide by vehicle in the first degree, driving under the influence less safe, driving under the influence per se, making false statements, and a seat-belt violation. Hartzler appeals, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his vehicular-homicide convictions; and that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of his blood-alcohol content in violation of the Confrontation Clause, improperly charging the jury that the negligence of the victim was irrelevant for purposes [332 Ga.App. 675] of establishing causation, and improperly expressing an opinion on his guilt. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict,[1] the evidence shows that on June 25, 2010, Hartzler and the victim spent the day together drinking beer and " off roading" or " mudding" in Hartzler's jeep, which had no doors. And later that evening, Hartzler drove the victim toward a restaurant, where she planned to meet some friends. They were traveling north on Georgia 400 and, at approximately 10:22 p.m., they reached the intersection where the restaurant was located. Then, Hartzler, driving at a speed of no less than 18 miles per hour,

Page 741

took a sharp left turn, and the victim, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the vehicle and onto the middle of the highway.

After the victim was thrown from the jeep, Hartzler drove another 70 feet, but he eventually stopped and walked back onto the unlit highway toward the victim. And as Hartzler was standing over her, a minivan struck him and then ran over the victim. Another motorist who witnessed the collision called 911, and law enforcement and medical personnel responded to the scene. Hartzler sustained serious injuries and was air lifted to an area hospital for treatment. Tragically, the victim died.

Several individuals who responded to the scene testified that they smelled the strong odor of alcohol emanating from Hartzler. His jeep also smelled strongly of alcohol, and there was a cooler inside it, which contained a spilled alcoholic beverage. After the collision, while Hartzler was still at the hospital, a law-enforcement officer read him an implied-consent notice and requested that he submit to a blood test, but Hartzler refused. Later, in a taped interview, Hartzler admitted that he and the victim had taken approximately eighteen beers with them to go mudding, but he claimed that he only drank four beers and that he stopped drinking at 5:00 p.m. Eventually, the police obtained a warrant for Hartzler's medical records, which revealed that a few hours after the accident his blood-alcohol content was 0.19 grams, more than twice the legal limit.

In a nine-count indictment, Hartzler was charged with three counts of first-degree homicide by vehicle, driving under the influence less safe, driving under the influence per se, reckless driving, making false statements, a reflector violation, and a seat-belt violation. And after a jury trial, Hartzler was acquitted of one count of first-degree homicide by vehicle and the reckless-driving count. The [332 Ga.App. 676] court also granted a directed verdict of acquittal as to the reflector-violation count, but the jury found Hartzler ...


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