Cell technology expert testifies on Day 3 of Wight trial
MANCHESTER – An expert in the analysis of records generated by cell phones and other communications devices testified Thursday that the lead investigator in the 2016 fatal auto-pedestrian crash in Lyndeborough was “completely wrong” in his conclusion that the driver was texting at the time of the crash.
John B. Minor’s testimony came Thursday morning during the third day of the jury trial of Grace Wight, the now 19-year-old Lyndeborough resident who is charged with two felony offenses and one misdemeanor in the July 15, 2016, auto-pedestrian crash that claimed the life of Debess Rogers, 60.
The charges – felony counts of negligent homicide and reckless conduct involving a motor vehicle and a misdemeanor charge of vehicular assault – accuse Wight of “negligently causing the death” of Rogers by “recklessly” crossing into the opposite lane of Center Road and striking Rogers.
The misdemeanor charge alleges Wight “negligently caused the death of another” while driving a motor vehicle.
Rogers, whose husband and adult children have attended each day of the trial, was walking on Center Road after the car she and her husband were driving home from Massachusetts broke down about three miles from their Mountain Road home.
Testimony is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today in Courtroom 3 at Hillsborough County Superior Court North.
Minor, a Texas-based analyst who has worked in intelligence, legal, education and certification areas of the communications industry, according to his resume, spent most of his time on the stand under questioning by Wight’s lawyer, Attorney Jim Rosenberg.
He was followed by State Trooper Michael Pelletier, who headed up the months-long investigation that ultimately determined, according to Rosenberg’s account of Pelletier’s final report, that the fatal collision was likely caused by a combination of speed, Wight driving on the wrong side of the road and cell phone use.
It’s the cell phone use allegation that Rosenberg has focused on, beginning with his opening statement Tuesday.
At the same time, he has repeatedly, and often in great detail, assailed what he calls Pelletier’s failure to explore whether sleep deprivation contributed to the accident – even though, according to Rosenberg, Wight made reference four times to falling asleep or “nodding off” over the course of her 911 call.
“In your report, you ruled out sleep deprivation as a cause of the accident,” Rosenberg asked Pelletier, who responded, “yes.”
While Pelletier told the court his conclusions were based in part on talking with other troopers,
Rosenberg mentioned the 911 call, saying it’s “interesting you didn’t consider the 911 call at all” in his report.
“Nowhere in your report did you mention Grace’s call to 911, correct?” Rosenberg asked. “Correct,” Pelletier answered. “There were no quotes from 911 in your report at all?”
“No … I turned over the audio files to the attorney general’s office,”
But Pelletier, Rosenberg said, concluded that “cell phone use was a factor.”
“I said it was plausible,” Pelletier responded.
“You stated that cell phone distraction was among the causes of this accident, right?” Rosenberg said. “Correct,” Pelletier answered.
Rosenberg explored Pelletier’s cell phone theory further, asking Pelletier if he was “focusing on cell phone use … before you even got to the scene.”
Pelletier said he was, and acknowledged also that he told one of the investigating troopers “to key on cell phone use as a cause.”
Meanwhile, in questioning Minor, the expert analyst, Rosenberg sought to highlight the fact that Minor was apparently able to make a number of conclusions by examining and analyzing Wight’s cell phone records, while Pelletier said he’s learned in training seminars given by Verizon representatives that the data is unreliable for purposes of drawing conclusions.
Rosenberg asked Minor if, in his analysis, it’s possible that Wight “was texting at the time of the accident.”
“No, it wasn’t possible … the text was transmitted at least 10 minutes prior” to the accident, Minor responded.
Pelletier’s conclusion that Wight was texting at the time of the accident is, Minor added, “completely wrong.”
Assistant County Attorney Patrick Ives, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant County Attorney Alex Yiokarinis, cross-examined Minor briefly, asking him if he could determine from his analysis of the records whether Wight “was distracted by anything to do with the phone when she was on Center Road.”
Minor said he could not, nor could he determine how fast she was driving or if she was driving on the wrong side of the road.
He also said in response to Ives’s questioning that unlike a “sent” text message, a partially written one that hasn’t been sent would stay on a phone, but would not appear in the records.
Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Telegraph_DeanS.