Come back with reckless homicide verdict
It took less than one evening for jurors to reach their decision in the case that has brought national attention to Sevier County.
Charles Stan Martin was found guilty of reckless homicide in the death of June Carol Alexander.
The state and defense rested their case yesterday in the trial of Martin who was accused of second degree murder in the death of June Carol Alexander.
Judge Richard R. Vance gave the jury instructions that they could return with one of four options based on evidence. 1. Guilty of second degree murder; 2. Guilty of reckless homicide; 3. Guilty of criminal negligence homicide or 4. Not guilty.
Alexander fell sixty feet to her death on the ride known as The Hawk in Pigeon Forge on March 14, 2004.
Milford Brinton, a consulting and electrical engineer took the stand for the defense. Brinton said he had 43 years of experience in electrical engineering and reviewed the manufacturers’ manual for the ride. “I looked at the logic diagrams and spent time reviewing the manual,” state Brinton. “My conclusion is that Stan did not put the jumper wires on the panel.”
Brinton said according to the design layout in the manual the ride would never have started without the jumper cables in place.
Brinton called it a “design defect” one of two with The Hawk. He admitted that jumper wires are not normally used on amusement park rides but that the ride would not have worked without.
“As designed, the system would not work,” said Brinton. “The ride would not work from the beginning.”
Brinton said that he would not leave the wires exposed as they were found in the electrical panel but added “in hast of setting up a ride, yes, I’d do that.”
Brinton stated the box in the electrical panel cabinet with additional alligator clips was not unusual. “You see them [electrical panel boxes] from clean to so cluttered that you can’t get to the wires.
In Brinton’s opinion of the wiring, “I expect it was done before Mr. Martin had custody of it [The Hawk].”
The second expert witness for the defense was Frank Johnson, an engineer from Texas who has worked with the military in developing a high energy laser system. He reviewed Brinton’s findings and stated that the state’s expert witness, Ed Privonic, was “in accurate” and that a “serious omission was made” with the description of the operation of The Hawk. “They did not test the ride with the jumper wire removed and the safety lap bar secured in place,” stated Johnson.
Johnson said he may not have noticed the red wire in the wiring system.
“You wouldn’t have noticed a red wire hanging down on the electrical panel?” inquired Attorney General Al Schmutzer Jr. “No I may not,” replied Johnson.
Johnson concurred with Brinton that the jumper wires must have been placed on the ride by the manufacturer. Several former Rockin’ Raceway employees took the stand and told of the ride not running when all of the safety mechanisms were not in place.
Audie Layman of Dandridge stated, “The lap bar would come down and if it did not lock, it wouldn’t start. We’d have to check each seat. There was a set of two lights on the seat. If the lights didn’t light up, we’d have to check it.”
Some of the LED lights burned out and that they than had to manually check each seat, according to Layman.
Dollywood’s Director of Safety and Security, Robert Fox took the stand. Fox was chief of police in Sevierville for sixteen years and has worked at Dollywood for the last three.
“We have had rides from Zamperla and have acquired four new rides in the month of March. Phil Castellano [the person who installed The Hawk for Rockin’ Raceway] set up the rides.
Attorney for the prosecution District Attorney Al Schmutzer, Jr. asked Fox if he would run a ride with cut wires. “Our electricians and ride technicians inspect the rides everyday. We would have shut down the ride until it was fixed.” Schmutzer then asked, “Have you seen rides with alligator clips on your rides?” “No” replied Fox. “We would have a ride mechanic come and check it and repair it.” Fox stated the ride would be shut down until that occurred.
Fox also stated that Dollywood staff checks the safety mechanism of their rides each day before anyone is allowed to ride on them.
Attorney for the defense Bryan Delius said in his closing statement that, “The state has not shown proof that Martin put jumper cables on the panel. There was a glaring failure to run the ride with the seats closed and the jumper wire off to see if it would run. There was a deception from Castellano furthered by the experts.”
Delius stated that there was no way the jury could find his client guilty.
Steve Hawkins presented the initial closing argument for the State. He referred to the safety problems with the ride, and how according testimony, items were not replaced such as lighting and motor parts. “We know The Hawk changed in July 2003. Ken Mace tells you he paid his money, got on the ride with his two kids and his safety harness slipped,” stated Hawkins. “He had to hold on for dear life. Martin didn’t call Zamperla. He opened the ride back up after checking it himself with his stepson Joey Dickson.”
Delius countered that Zamperla had to make the ride work when it was set up at two of the largest amusement park trade shows in the country before it was brought to Pigeon Forge. And to make that ride work they installed wires and alligator clips.
Schmutzer stated, “What it came down to was Martin or Zamperla? They [the defense] put up a smoke screen hoping you’d start looking in other directions. Their two witnesses say the wires were there from the beginning. Do you believe that? Would Dollywood work with a company that puts alligator clips on their rides?”
Schmutzer contended that Martin had the means, the motive and the opportunity. “This is not reckless, this is deliberate,” stated Schmutzer.
For the jurors to decide on the charge of reckless homicide they had to agree that there was “reckless disregard for human life.”
Schmutzer stated, “We are obviously pleased with the verdict. I commend the Pigeon Forge Police Department for the way they handled this investigation. It was unique and totally out of the ordinary. They did an excellent job and were first class all the way. It is what made the case. Steve Hawkins and my staff did an excellent job getting the witnesses here. You can’t do it without the help of a lot of people and I had a lot of help.”
When asked by The Herald how he felt about the win Schmutzer stated, “There are no winners in a criminal case – especially for the Alexander family.”
The sentencing hearing will be held July 26, 2005 when Judge Richard R. Vance will decide the punishment.
On top of the $5,000 fine imposed by the jury Martin could receive two to four years in prison.