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Gross Vehicular Manslaughter Case Headed For Trial

Judge Kolin says lawyer Robert Wyatt will be held to answer on car-pedestrian collision that caused the death of Edward Phillips, 85, of Rossmoor.

After a day of testimony about sight lines, reaction time and the direction the victim faced, Superior Court Judge William M. Kolin on Monday afternoon bound Rossmoor lawyer Robert Wyatt over for trial on vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and DUI charges.

The case was scheduled for arraignment Oct. 3 in Superior Court in Martinez.

The preliminary hearing in Superior Court in Walnut Creek was for Robert Wyatt, 70, a Rossmoor resident accused in a traffic collision that caused the death of Edward Phillips, 85, of Rossmoor. Phillips died 2 1/2 days after the collision on the evening of Dec. 10, 2010.

The judge, in making rulings from the bench that Wyatt be held to answer on the charges, cited pieces of evidence he found compelling.
"I was particularly struck by the testimony of Mr. (John) Heise, the bus driver," said Kolin. 

Heise on Sept. 8 testified that he felt Rossmoor was a dangerous place for drivers and pedestrians. "People just don't seem to observe the right of way," he said. "They don't stop at stop signs."

The judge added that "the court was not convinced" by reports of initial statements to authorities by Wyatt on the evening of the collision that Phillips had run out in front of the car on Pine Knoll Road.

"It seems incredible," Kolin said. "The 'hobbled sprint' — the court doesn't find that to be credible."

Phillips used a cane but was scolded by family members sometimes to use it more often, according to testimony.

Subpoenaed medical records for Phillips were entered into the record Monday.

There were references to Phillips working out three or four times a week, and walking four to five miles a day, defense attorney William Gagen said.

Phillips was blind in one eye, according to testimony.

Phillips was in the habit of crossing the road from Entry 3 (his Rossmoor building) to a bench Pine Knoll Road, and then crossing back over when he saw the Dial-a-Ride bus coming, Officer Steve Rohwer testified. He had been warned not to do this by a bus driver, according to indirect testimony.

There was no place to sit along the curb on the north side of the road, near Entry 3.

Phillips often caught the Rossmoor bus to downtown Walnut Creek, where he was fond of dining at PF Chang's.

On Dec. 10, 2010, Phillips was in the roadway when Wyatt's Bentley struck him, Rohwer testified. His cane was found on the scene with no evidence on it of impact with the car, Rohwer said.

An earlier vodka

Earlier testimony was that shortly before the collision Wyatt had had one beer with a Mexican dinner in Lafayette. Rohwer testified that Wyatt admitted to him he had had a highball glass of vodka and ice a little after 4 p.m. that day.

The collision took place about 6:35 p.m. Dec. 10, 2010. Within three hours, police had taken a blood sample from Wyatt which showed a 0.18 blood alcohol content, according to testimony, well over the legal limit for DUI.

Deputy District Attorney Matthew Caron, summing up the prosecution's case in the preliminary hearing, said there is probable cause "to believe Mr. Wyatt should have been able to perceive Mr. Phillips in the roadway and stop his vehicle in time."

Gagen said, "It is the position of the defense that, based on the evidence, the only crime Mr. Wyatt is arguably guilty of is drunk driving." Gagen cited testimony that the evidence pointed to Wyatt traveling within his lane on Pine Knoll Road, within the speed limit, reasonably, with lights functioning properly.

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