Simons trial begins

EAGLE RIVER – The trial of a Calumet man accused of a drunk-driving accident that killed his friend began in Keweenaw County Circuit Court Wednesday.

David Simons, 39, is accused of being intoxicated during the single-vehicle crash on 5 Mile Point Road in the early morning of Nov. 5, 2011. His friend, Jeffrey Brusso, 53, of Allouez Township, was killed in the crash.

Simons was found at home with his mother in Calumet around 3:30 a.m.

Earlier that night, Simons and Brusso had been seen at the Cliff View Bar in Phoenix, where they both appeared to be intoxicated, Prosecutor Donna Jaaskelainen said. During a preliminary hearing last year, the bartender said the two had seemed “pretty intoxicated” before arriving at the bar. Simons ordered one beer, which the bartender dumped out with three-fourths remaining when he went outside. The bartender said Simons was behind the wheel when they left.

Jaaskelainen said Brusso was determined to have died from a burst right ventricle and pericardial sac resulting from sudden deceleration.

Simons made two calls after the accident – one to 911, and one to Brusso’s wife – both of which were played in court Wednesday. The call to 911 was plagued by bad reception, as Simons was unable to hear the 911 operator. Brusso’s wife missed the call, and did not hear it until after police arrived at her residence. From there, police went to Brusso.

“Once you have the opportunity, and once you’ve applied the common sense that I know you all have, and once you review the evidence, I believe beyond a reasonable doubt you will find the defendant guilty of all these charges,” Jaaskelainen said to the jurors.

Simons’ attorney, Nicholas Daavettila, said while Simons had some drinks that night, there was no blood-alcohol test done until several hours after the crash. Only a small amount of drinking had been documented in the several hours leading up to the crash – about three beers and a shot of brandy, Daavettila said.

Additionally, he said, the reason for the crash wasn’t a case of driver error. While Simons and Brusso were close friends, he said, their relationship had become strained due to a series of debts Brusso had incurred after he left his job due to injuries in 2010. In all, Brusso owed Simons about $3,000, Daavettila said.

According to Daavettila, when Simons pushed the issue in the car on the morning of the crash, Brusso became agitated and leveled a shotgun at him. In the ensuing struggle for the gun, Simons was at one point pulled into the passenger seat. Distracted, Simons didn’t notice a sharp curve near Brusso’s home until it was too late.

Daavettila said the curve, while sharp, is clearly marked.

“This curve does not come as a surprise to any driver,” he said. “… This is a curve Mr. Simons and Mr. Brusso have probably driven thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times in their life. On this one occasion, it wasn’t made.”

After Simons regained consciousness, he said, he attempted to go to Brusso’s house to wake up his wife. His mother picked him up at the scene when he arrived home at 1:45 a.m.

After drinking two beers and a large mug of wine, Simons went up to his bedroom with a loaded shotgun. He then tried to work up the courage to commit suicide, Simons said.

“Thankfully, his mother intervened and got his girlfriend on the phone and talked him out of it,” Daavettila said. “She convinced him to try to get some sleep, which he did.”

Simons’ blood wasn’t tested until five-and-a-half hours after the incident, Daavettila said.

However, the victim’s wife, Natalie Brusso, testified she had never heard of any money Brusso owed Simons.

“He was my husband,” he said. “If he suddenly had some money, I’d be like ‘Where did you get it?’ because he was disabled from his back,'” she said.

Brusso was also skeptical about other things. Brusso was found in the car with his seat belt on. But she said his back pain was severe enough that he didn’t buckle his seat belt, and would have had trouble doing so. That back pain would also have made it hard for him to fire a gun, she said.

“If he’d shot it, he’d split in half,” she said.

Daavettila also questioned Keweenaw County Deputy Mark Aho, who responded at the scene, over the lack of details such as forensic testing of the shotgun, which was found near the car, or the number of empty beer cans found in the car.

The day’s final witness was Michigan State Police Trooper Steve Lanctot, who displayed pictures taken at the scene of the accident. Following his testimony, the court went into recess shortly before 5 p.m.

Simons is charged with operating while intoxicated causing death, failing to stop after causing an accident resulting in death and driving while operating license is suspended or revoked during an accident causing death. All are 15-year felonies.

The trial was scheduled to resume this morning at 8:30 a.m. with the cross-examination of Lanctot.