published: Friday, August 30, 2013
Carlson acquitted of felony charges
By SAMANTHA GHOLAR
VERO BEACH – Former Highlands County commissioner Jeff Carlson was acquitted Friday of felony charges in the death of his wife, Julie, in a July 2010 boating accident. He was convicted of two misdemeanor charges of boating under the influence and navigation violations.
The state said Carlson was under the influence of alchohol at the time of the crash. Carlson faced two felony charges: BUI (Boating under the influence) manslaughter and vessel homicide, both carrying 15-year sentences. If convicted Carlson, 43, could have been sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in prison.
The accident happened while the couple vacationed with in-laws, Sebring City Administrator Scott Noethlich and his wife, Annie.
Carlson was operating the couple’s boat when the vessel struck a piling in a water channel shortly after leaving the dock of a local restaurant. Julie was pronounced dead at Sebastian Regional Medical Center due to severe head trauma.
The week-long trial began Tuesday, Aug. 27 and concluded by 4 p.m. today. The 19th Circuit State’s Attorney office was represented by David Dodd and Chris Taylor.
A very emotional Carlson recalled the details of what went on the weekend of his wife’s tragic death.
“We’d always try to find weekends we were all available … Julie and I owned the boat. We took it out several times a week. It was just a general weekend at the beach, just a vacation. We got there Thursday night around 10 or 11 (p.m.). We didn’t do any fishing that night, we went to sleep. Friday morning Scott (Noethlich) and I got up early before daylight and went fishing ... without the girls because they liked to sleep in,” Carlson said.
According to Carlson’s testimony, he and Noethlich spent the day fishing in the familiar waters around North Hutchinson Island near their Fort Pierce campground. Carlson and Noethlich returned to their wives around lunch time. The couples enjoyed dinner and a movie Friday evening.
Carlson recalled the events of the Saturday night the accident occurred.
“Did you drink that day?” defense attorney Michael Snure asked Carlson.
“We probably had a couple of beers around 10 a.m. both days, yes,” Carlson replied.
Snure questioned Carlson regarding his meals, mood and the condition of the boat.
After several minutes of recounting his grouper and soup at a local restaurant, Carlson described the group’s activities just before sunset on that day.
“We left Waterside Grill and I went to check boat to make sure it would start around 12:30. The batteries were dead, so I went to try to find one. It was low tide so while we were waiting we fished. When the boat was charged we headed back to campground. We had dogs with us so we let the dogs out, I sat in hammock, charged the boat again. At least another hour passed by,” Carlson said. “We left camp again and headed north around 2:30.”
Snure’s next questions sparked emotions in Carlson.
“What were you headed north for? Was there any particular destination you were headed to?” Snure asked.
“No, we were just heading north. The girls liked to look at the houses around the inlet especially around Vero. There is some beautiful property around there,” Carlson said.
“So just sight-seeing and fishing,” Snure asked.
“Yes, sir,” said Carlson.
Carlson was then asked if he recalled having any alcohol around that time. Carlson stated that he probably had a couple of beers while they were around the inlet.
“There was a pretty sunset that day,” Carlson said, fighting tears. “We stopped and took pictures. We saw some dolphins, then we headed to Captain Hiram’s for dinner.”
“When you arrived did you feel under the influence at all?” Snure asked.
“No, sir,” said Carlson.
Carlson recalled having two rum and Cokes at dinner, one while eating appetizers and one approximately 30 minutes later when his main entrée arrived. Carlson also recalled having at least one glass of water with dinner.
“I left table around 9 p.m. I paid, signed the credit card receipt, went to dance floor…We danced for about 45 minutes… The set ended and the band took a break around 10 p.m., so we left the restaurant and walked to the dock and prepared the boat to leave,” Carlson said.
Noethlich initially moved the boat away from the dock as he stated in his testimony earlier this week, Carlson confirmed.
The boat’s spotlight was not working so Carlson and Noethlich switch positions and Carlson took over.
“It was a full moon that night; it was pretty bright out. You could see reflective material in the distance could even see some of the bigger signs. Went out towards what I thought was the channel,” Carlson said.
Julie, Scott and Annie were situated at the front of the boat keeping watch. Just before the collision, Carlson stated he recalled hearing Scott and Annie yell “something along the lines of ‘look out.’”
“I turned the boat to the right slightly because I thought that was the best thing to do…Just before we hit the piling my wife stood up and starting walking toward me,” Carlson said.
Carlson stated again that he was not drunk when the group left the restaurant.
Dodd cross examined Carlson briefly, asking why he would navigate waters he was not fully familiar with without a spotlight at night.
“You are aware that you can’t stop immediately. You’re an experienced boater. You know there are no brakes on a boat...You could’ve, if you wanted to, idled out like you did when you came in, correct?” Dodd asked Carlson.
“I could’ve done a lot of things,” Carlson said.
“But you made the decision to throttle it out. Your 200-horsepower boat, you put it on a plane going what experts say and have calculated approximately 28 miles an hour. You went in at 10 miles an hour in the daytime but came out going almost three times that at night, after drinking all day,” Dodd said.
Snure offered Carlson two more simple questions following the state’s cross examination.
“Jeff when you made the decision did you think it was safe?” asked Snure.
“Jeff did you try to kill your wife?”
“No,” Carlson said in tears.
Earlier Friday, Dodd lead the testimonies and cross examining questioning of the defense’s witnesses, asking a slew of questions to certified auditor Janine Arvizu, who testified that blood alcohol level results could easily be “contaminated.”
The witness spoke of her concerns about fermentation of blood as result of lab work. “If you have the right conditions, fermentation can happen, left at room temperature,” said Arvizu.
Arvizu stated she had been analyzing gastromatolgoy results for decades. State’s witness, Ruth Vacha FDLE Crime Lab Analyst, disagreed later during the trial that provisions are made to ensure no errors are made when making a blood analysis.
Dodd stated in his closing argument that the defense has tried to create forced doubt amongst the jurors, stating that incidents such as the GPS data being missing for nine days following the incident, the fact Carlson's blood sample was destroyed in error and unavailable to the defense for independent testing and the disagreement between Vacha and Arvizu could not hide the fact of the blood alcohol level itself.
Carlson’s alcohol level following the incident, which was taken three hours after the collision, was around 0.07. According to the state’s expert witness earlier this week, for a man of Carlson’s size the body eliminates approximately .015 percent of alcohol per hour. According to the expert’s calculations, that would have put Carlson’s blood alcohol level at .121 at the time of the accident. (Impaired persons are considered to have blood alcohol levels anywhere between .05 and .08; .08 is legally impaired.)
“That’s what we are here about today, the actions of this defendant. The death of Julie Carlson is tragic, not a tragic accident. It’s that recklessness fueled by alcohol that brought us here today,” said Dodd. “I'm not going to stand up here and tell you Carlson was drunk. Impaired is different than drunk… He was going too fast, in the dark, after drinking. What’s changed to make him feel so confident that he could navigate those pilings after dark.? Three variables changed: dark instead of light, he has had more to drink and that spotlight didn’t come on. That is the evidence.”
Snure stated that what happened was indeed an accident.
“They’ve spent the better part of this week trying to prove a crime was committed. They aren’t interested in the witness’ testimony…All their effort is to say that this was such a bad judgment but experts said you can navigate the Intercoastal waterway at night without a spotlight. His judgment was not, ‘Can I make it to Fort Pierce?' It was, 'Can I make it to right there?'” said Snure.
Drunk Carlson (by: Never voted for him - 9/4/2013)
So he was only trying to make it "right there" says his lawyer? That's what every drunk driver is trying to do. Thank God he was in a boat and not a car or more people would probably be dead. He should be in jail and he knows it.
Carlson (by: Disgusted - 9/4/2013)
Let a non elected person blow a .07 hours after an accident and see if the average person gets off. It's sickening. Now we just get to wait and see how long he waits until he debuts the new wife. He may lay low, but we're never forgetting this foolishness.
One question (by: Sgt. Friday - 9/4/2013)
I have only one question for the family & friends. Does Jeff still drink alcohol?
(by: ole timer - 9/3/2013)
Quite honestly, the low amount of comments about this shows, sadly where the mindset of our average resident/reader rests. There was so much
(by: Researcher - 9/3/2013)
b.u.i. with fatality, b.a.c. under .149....slap on wrist. You get more punishment on a d.u.i. with no fatality....go figure....It's not about money, it's about having a friend with money. Money for slick lawyers.
Carlson (by: Amazed - 9/2/2013)
I take that back, I was out of line. How stupid of me to recklessly say things I have no clue about on here.
Thank God (by: Diane Thibodeau - 9/2/2013)
This was an accident...a tragic one. I can only assume the naysayers here have never done anything wrong. Jeff has to live with the loss of his wife and his children have to live with the loss of their mother. Do you think Julie would want the children to live with the loss of their father in prison? I do not think this has anything to do with the "good ole boys" or "money". The jury realized that they could have been in his position themselves at some point. The guilt this man has to live with for the rest of his life is punishment enough for this horrid accident.
carlson (by: Granny - 9/1/2013)
thank god for jeff. It was an accident, he will live with it forever. Good ole boys -- they didn't have anything to do with this.
Miscarriage of justice (by: Scott free - 9/1/2013)
Why am I not surprised that this jerk was let off the hook? He has been part of the entitled elite of the good old boys network since he was born, and has been getting away with wrong doing since high school! Next we will see him with a new wife, and back on the county commission. Wonder which commissioner will be forced to step aside to make room for this slime?
county is a joke (by: Marcus - 9/1/2013)
They punish people who commit minor crimes calling it their "conservatism" then let their "own" get a slap on the hand for committing a crime resulting in a persons death...man am I glad I left highlands county
Jeff Carlson (by: Ron - 9/1/2013)
Best report of this story Congrats N.S. Sad again a jury's decision is disregarded by those who have another agenda. Sorry for your loss Jeff Julie is missed by all. Best wishes , Be strong.
Carlson walks (by: Gotta be kidding me - 9/1/2013)
If he has an ounce of decency he will never run for another elected office. Would love to see him do some work educating other about driving bad boating while drunk but that would be too much like taking responsibility for his actions. Whole thing sickens me and it does remind me of the Grubb case.
crazed by "amazed" (by: boz - 8/31/2013)
This is a free country and I agree you have the right to show your "behind" in public forum. That is all folks.........
I would think let's lawyers would post their names (by: Ray Napper - 8/31/2013)
In the opinions of some here they seem to believe that Mr. Carlson had some type of connections in another county on the coast, so please before I die laughing at your serious lack of intellect, please explain this "power" he has. Was the money to hire an attorney? Well that is some power but one shared by many so that must not be it. Perhaps he swayed the jury in some way. Maybe they believed as you that he was so powerful they would be granted gifts and rewards by this powerful figure of a man. No that would mean you are accusing him and the jury members of a crime, so that can't be it, you'd be liable in court, So then it has to be the Judge. He paid off the judge to manipulate the evidence so that it would appear that the State messed up(it did btw). No, that would be the same as the objects to the jury theory, so how did he do it? Or can we assume that you have a problem with the system working?
three years (by: Jim - 8/31/2013)
Three years and a drunk county comminssione gets away with bui drinking, is anyone surprised? All you had to do was be at a race party or for that fact any party, the only point they left out was how large were the two drinks and three hrs later taking the breath test. next thing you know he will want his seat back. look out wjoever has it!
Carlson (by: Amazed - 8/31/2013)
The headline should have been "Good ole boy network alive and well, but Julie dead." Nobody doubts he was drunk after he blew a .07 three hours after the accident. He may have beaten the case on technicalities, but everybody with sense knows he was drunk. Congrats to ya Sebring, now you have killing buddies Carlson and Jay Grub walking around pretending to be model citizens. Amazing how you can be reckless and kill people there and get a slap on the wrist if you have the right connections.
money (by: sam - 8/30/2013)
It's True money can get you out of anything...
WOW (by: Sam - 8/30/2013)
White Colar Crime you should have none he would get away with it. If it were me are or you it would have been 15 to 30 years . He will be back in office you can bet on it....
Best wishes~ (by: Blindman~ - 8/30/2013)
Best regards to the Carlson family. So sorry for the loss of Mrs. Carlson. Maybe, just maybe now, the healing can begin for Jeff & the children.
M1 or M2 (by: Joe Macy - 8/30/2013)
What are the two misdemeanor charges?
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