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Published: Wednesday, 6/27/2007

Defense disputes testimony of brake expert in fatal Bedford Township crash

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Krell Krell
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MONROE - The attorney for a former Bedford school board member on trial for contributing to the death of a high school student and the serious injury of another, yesterday questioned the validity of an expert witness' testimony.

Randy Krell's attorney, William Godfroy, grilled the prosecution's expert brake specialist on the certainty of his claim that the brakes of the teenager's car were working at the time of the fatal car crash last year.

Mr. Krell is charged with chasing a car of teenagers through Bedford Township for miles at speeds up to 85 mph after one of them threw a plastic water bottle at his car.

The teenagers have testified that Austin Oberle, then 17, began driving their car faster because they were being chased.

"People were saying, 'He's catching up to us! Go!'•" Ashley Roth, 18, yesterday testified in Monroe County Circuit Court.

The chase on June 15, 2006, ended when the car driven by Oberle blew through a stop sign and hit a tree off the west side of Whiteford Center Road.

Carl Ziegler, another passenger, and Miss Roth have testified that Oberle hit the brakes, but the car did not slow down and then slid into the tree.

Oberle, who yesterday pleaded guilty to two felony charges related to the accident, is expected to take the stand today.

The crash killed Charlie Fackelman, 17, of Toledo, and severely injured Stevie Beale, who is now 18, of Bedford.

Mr. Krell is charged with vehicular manslaughter and felonious driving.

He could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Alexander Zhukov, who has doctoral degrees in automotive engineering and motor vehicle and highway safety, yesterday said the silver 1998 Pontiac Bonneville driven by Oberle could have stopped at the Whiteford Center stop sign. "There was nothing wrong with the brake system or steering system that could have led to failure to stop or slow down the vehicle in the crash that we are discussing here today," Mr. Zhukov said.

If the brakes had failed, it could make Mr. Krell less responsible for the accident.

Mr. Godfroy wondered how Mr. Zhukov could determine the brakes were in good shape without physically testing them. Mr. Zhukov said the car was too damaged to test the brakes, so he examined all the car's brake mechanisms instead.

"If I give you a light bulb and you don't put it in the socket, there is no way for you to know for sure that that light bulb is going to work, is there?" Mr. Godfroy asked him during cross-examination.

"Well, if I look at the light bulb's filament and it is in working order, then I can assume that it will work," Mr. Zhukov responded.

"But you aren't certain," Mr. Godfroy shot back.

"Well, I am 99.99 percent certain," Mr. Zhukov said.

"But you are not certain," Mr. Godfroy insisted.

"Well, you are never 100 percent certain," Mr. Zhukov concluded.

The defense's expert witness on brakes is expected to give his testimony today.

Mr. Godfroy also introduced the other main element of his case: whether it was Mr. Krell's car that chased the teenagers.

On his cross-examination of Miss Beale, she admitted to seeing a candy-apple red Mustang instead of the darker colored car - similar to Mr. Krell's black Chrysler 300 M - that all the other witnesses have testified to seeing.

Miss Roth said she remembers the exchange after Charlie Fackelman threw the water bottle.

"Charlie said, 'Dude, I just messed up a Mustang,'•" Miss Roth recalled.

"And then Austin said, 'No way that was a Mustang. I'm pretty sure that was a Chrysler,'•" she said.

Emilie Berry, 19, testified that she was standing in her driveway on Clegg Road when she saw two cars zip past.

Miss Berry said she and her then-boyfriend, Ryan Ciacelli, drove to the site of the crash and saw Mr. Krell standing beside his Chrylser. She identified Mr. Krell's vehicle as matching the car that had sped past her house moments before.

"Can you see that man seated in the courtroom today?" Monroe County Prosecutor William Paul Nichols asked.

"Yes," Miss Berry said.

Miss Berry then pointed at Mr. Krell.

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

at: babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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