Less than a half hour before he plowed his Mercedes into a stopped motorcycle on East Sunrise Boulevard in 2010, Mario Careaga was in a jewelry store at the Galleria mall opening a credit account so he could buy a Cartier watch, a Broward jury learned Wednesday.
The woman who sold him the watch, Joanne Frey, said she could smell alcohol on Careaga’s breath, but other than that she did not think he was impaired. He answered her questions, she said. He filled out a form. His eyes were not bloodshot. He had no trouble walking. His speech was not slurred. He spent more than 40 minutes in her store. on Sept. 10, 2010. 1. Toxicology tests show his blood alcohol level was .24 percent three times the legal limit more than an hour after the crash.
Careaga, 46, is on trial for DUI manslaughter and careless driving. The victim was Nancy Lopez Ruiz, 22, a Miami Heat dancer who had stopped her motorcycle on a gore, a painted section of the street not intended for vehicular traffic. She died at the scene.
Defense lawyer David Bogenschutz appeared to challenge the notion that Careaga could have been as drunk as the toxicology results suggest. Careaga’s life partner, Ray Stapleton, had been with him throughout the evening and testified on Tuesday that Careaga had no more than two vodka cocktails and part of a third.
If Careaga was as severely impaired as the toxicology results would indicate, Frey said, she didn’t notice it.
Jurors were able to see for themselves how Careaga conducted himself at the Galleria mall. Video footage from Nieman Marcus (where a party was being held) and Mayor’s Jewelers showed Careaga walking around, often with a glass in his hand. At the jewelry story, Careaga spent most of his time leaning against a jewelry counter.
“Did he appear to have balance problems?” Bogenschutz asked.
“No,” Frey answered.
“Was he speaking in a loud voice?””Was he argumentative?”But for the jury, the crucial question will be, was he actually drunk?
Jonathan Graham, a Fort Lauderdale police traffic homicide investigator, said he suspected Careaga was drunk after seeing the suspect at the crash scene and watching the video footage from the Galleria. He said the toxicology results, which came weeks later from the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office, confirmed his suspicions.
“He was not able to stand without swaying in a circular motion, indicating he was not able to maintain his balance,” Graham said, describing Careaga at the crash scene.
Prosecutor Kristin MacKenzie again played the surveillance video that happened to capture the crash. Graham noted that Careaga’s Mercedes did not seem to be swerving into the motorcycle, as if to avoid another car, or apply its brakes.
“He appeared to be traveling in the center lane, then moved over into the gore area in an attempt to get into the right lane,” Graham said.
Other witnesses testified that westbound drivers who are unfamiliar with the intersection often don’t realize they need to get into the right lane to continue heading west. The center and left lanes of Sunrise Boulevard veer south onto Federal Highway.
Based on the video and his observations at the scene, Graham described the crash and Lopez Ruiz’s death without going into gory detail. He said the victim left bloodstains on the front of the Mercedes, on the driver’s side front door and near the back of the car. She had suffered a severe leg wound and a severe head wound.