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Attorneys attack crash data during Granich trial

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Defense disputes the methods used during accident investigation

By Carol A. Clark

SANTA FE – Much of Monday’s opening remarks surrounded the reliability of the crash reconstruction methods used at the scene and in the days following the death of Thomas Edward Granich, 32, on Dec. 4, 2005.

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  The state is prosecuting the victim’s wife, Penny Granich, 35, on charges of vehicular homicide, reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol.

Prosecutors believe Penny accelerated the couple’s 2004 Dodge truck on Overlook Park Road, left the roadway and continued a path over rocks and through shrubbery with no deviation from a straight line to the canyon’s edge, based on findings by accident reconstructionist Cpl. Jon Gonzales, who worked for the Los Alamos Police Department at the time.

  The defense disputes the methods used to reach those findings, including the unreliability of a global positioning system.

  “Since there were no witnesses, the only evidence they can bring to you is the truck was driving over the posted speed of 25 mph at a range from 52 to 110 mph,” defense attorney Mark Donatelli told jurors. “An expert from Arizona didn’t agree with Gonzales’ methodology so he changed his speed again … Ofc. Gonzales did not follow the methodology for determining speed in accidents.”

  Gonzales made somewhere between four to eight speed calculations of how fast the truck was going by figuring if you know how tall the cliff is and if you know how far the vehicle landed from the cliff then you know how fast it was going, Donatelli criticized what he called Gonzales’ assumptions.

  “As my grandfather would say, ‘People who make assumptions are defined by the first three letters of the word.’”

The state called on retired LAPD   Cpl. Joseph Tiano, one of the first responding officers, to explain a number of diagrams he drew at the crash scene. He was shift commander when the call came in from a county worker at 8:50 a.m. Sunday Dec. 4, 2005.  

  The worker had become suspicious while making his early morning rounds when he noticed tire tracks had flattened bushes leading off from the road.    He followed the path, eventually hearing a faint voice call out.   

He looked into the canyon and saw Penny sitting in the bed of a red truck some 350 feet below.

Tiano and LAPD Cpl. Dawn Desmet measured the points of evidence at the scene using a 100-foot steel measuring tape. Tiano pointed to several areas of roadway on the diagrams where the truck left “scuff” marks.”

“Scuff marks are made when tires break loose from the road as the driver is trying to make a curve … skid marks are left when the driver applies the breaks,” he said.  

Friends, family members and acquaintances were called throughout Monday to testify as to what they saw and observed in the Granich’s behavior at the Canyon Bar and Grill in the hours leading up to the crash.

  Bartender Dale Niven testified to serving Penny Granich four White Russians, which are made with “an ounce and a half or so of vodka, about an ounce of Kahlua and some half and half.”

  Niven cut Penny off from further drinks after seeing her sit on her sister Megan Simpson’s lap, spill her drink and fall on the floor. He described Penny as staggering from side to side.

  Niven passed a breathalyzer test halfway though his testimony after it was noticed that he exuded the aroma of alcohol from his person. It turned out that his clothes maintained an alcoholic stench from his working in the bar. Other witnesses described Penny as having slurred speech and appearing under the influence of alcohol.

  Several witnesses recalled Simpson helping her sister into the passenger side of the truck and Tom Granich getting behind the wheel before the couple drove out of the Canyon Bar and Grill parking lot.

  Los Alamos National Laboratory Deputy Fire Marshal Jeri Michelle Naranjo was at the bar that night and testified that Penny told her she and her husband were going to Overlook Park to “break in” the truck. When  Naranjo was asked what that meant, she said, “to get intimate.”

  Penny has stated that she can’t remember what happened or who was driving at the time of the crash. Both hers and her husband’s DNA were found all over the truck, according to Donatelli.

  In police documents a nurse at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center said Penny admitted she was driving and that she had injuries consistent with a person wearing a driver-side seat belt.

At the time of his death, Granich was working as a waste management specialist in Solid Waste Operations at LANL.

Penny is a LANL employee working in Physical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy. The couple has a daughter Rheanna.

The trial is expected to continue through Thursday.