SOUTH BEND — The trial of Mickey Pine, who is facing a vehicular homicide charge resulting from a collision on State Route 6 east of Menlo on March 31, 2019, got off to a rough start on April 28 in Pacific County Superior Court.
Pine is accused of crossing the center line and striking a vehicle driven by Shawn Clearwater head-on, killing him.
At the time of the collision, Pine is accused of having been under the influence of alcohol after spending the evening at Chester Tavern in South Bend before he began a commute home toward Adna, which is just across the Pacific-Lewis county line.
The case has been heavily contested from the beginning with Pine’s attorney, Pam Nogueira of Aberdeen based Ingram Zelasko & Goodwin, claiming the collision resulted from her client reaching down to change his radio and not from him being intoxicated.
Before jury selection could even begin, Judge Don Richter noted the court needed to first hear from the attorneys on a new matter. Nogueira began by informing the court that she had been notified at 2:23 p.m. the day before that there was new evidence in the form of a three-page report from Raymond Fire Department personnel who responded to the scene of the collision.
According to Nogueira, until she received this report less than 24 hours before the trial, there was no evidence concerning Clearwater’s cause of the death. She subsequently requested the case be dismissed, claiming the prosecution deliberately withheld the report that was dated March 31, 2019.
“This has to be a willful withholding of evidence,” Nogueira said. “This is a trial by ambush at this point. This is going against the code of professional conduct, and it is just absurd.”
Pacific County Prosecutor Ben Haslam had a differing perspective on the issue and noted that the “most extreme remedy” would be for the case to be dismissed. He instead offered to have the case continued or have the fire department personnel called next week for testimony after Nogueria has time to interview them. Haslam called their testimony a “strategic decision.”
Former RFD Firefighter and Paramedic Raela McVey was the fire department supervisor on shift and was on the scene. Along with other personnel who responded to the collision, she is expected to be able to testify to what they observed and what life-saving efforts they attempted to save Clearwater.
Judge declines to dismiss the case
After both Nogueira and Haslam expressed their arguments, Richter said the court has to “tread very carefully” but did not see dismissing the case as an option. Instead, he asked Nogueria if she would prefer to have a continuance or continue with the trial. After requesting a recess to confer with her client, she requested a continuance and that the new discovery be suppressed.
Richter gave both sides until April 30 to work out suitable dates for trial. Additionally, the state was sanctioned $3,000 for the expected 10 hours that Nogueira will need to interview the witnesses, along with ordering the state to reimburse her for subpoenas.
“Those are the sanctions the court believes are necessary to remedy the prejudice that was caused to the defendant personally,” Richter said. “The court makes a finding that there was no prejudice to his case in this continuance that would justify either suppression or dismissal.”
Opposing attorneys comment
After the hearing, both Haslam and Noguiera commented on the hearing’s proceedings and issues.
“The continuance of this trial is extremely burdensome. We had 13 individuals under subpoena and ready to testify,” Nogueira said. “My client has been waiting for his day in court for over two years now. However, with less than 24 hours before trial, we received reports that were written back in March of 2019.
“In this case, the prosecutor failed to timely request the 911 calls and never requested an autopsy of the deceased. Now, this is the second time they are financially sanctioned by the court for violating discovery rules. It is as if my client is the only one interested in bringing this case to a trial and proving his innocence,” she added.
Halsam had a different take on the hearing but put value on the importance of the jury having all the story possible to reach a verdict when the time arises.
“The situation is unfortunate as we are eager to get this matter resolved and had put in a lot of work having all of our officers and other witnesses available and ready to testify,” Haslam said. “However, when I received the EMS crew’s report yesterday and reviewed it, I knew it had to be included in our case.”
“It is important we show the jury the full story. I also had an obligation to immediately disclose it to the defense attorney, which I did. Overall, it was the right thing to do to provide it, and to be sure it is included in our case,” he said.