Feds must prove Blount impaired, defense insists

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

GREENVILLE – Just before she died, Natchez Trace traveler Ester Hageman was wearing dark clothes, her bicycle draped with dark garbage bags holding personal possessions.
Wendell Blount of Calhoun County may tell a federal jury later this week that he saw her from a distance as he drove the 22-foot-wide parkway near Houston that sunny April 22, 2009. Seconds later, his SUV struck and killed her as they both headed south.
Monday, 58-year-old Blount went on trial for her death. If convicted, he faces up to 33 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
Prosecutor Robert Mims told the jury of six men and six women that Blount was impaired by “very high” levels of morphine when he hit the Dutch citizen.
His defense attorney, David Hill of Oxford, told them Mims must prove Blount was impaired, not just that the number was high. Hills told them Blount has taken strong medications for years because of chronic pain, and that the 2009 numbers were not significant for his client.
The trial before District Judge W. Allen Pepper Jr. is expected to take all week.
The government’s first witness, Kim Korthuis, Tupelo’s Trace supervisory ranger, said he thought Blount was in shock, not chemically impaired, when Korthuis spoke with him soon after the fatal accident.
Korthuis, one of the first people to arrive at the accident scene, said he believed that if Blount were noticeably impaired, his investigator would have included it in his report.
He also said Blount complied with rangers’ requests to draw blood and he gave them oral and written statements about the accident.
Hill questioned him about the dangers posed to Trace travelers – cyclists and motorists – because of the two-lane roadway’s narrow lanes, each of them one foot less than regular roadway standards.
And Korthuis admitted the inherent possibilities for problems when one set of travelers is riding slowly and another is driving fast.
Chickasaw Coroner Andy Harmon said he changed his report on Hageman’s cause of death from “pending” to “homicide” when he received information about Blount’s morphine levels.
Assisting Hill at the defense table is his partner, David Minyard of Oxford.
The 12-member jury was chosen from a final pool of 50 and includes at least two people who admitted they have relatives with DUI convictions. One woman juror also said she takes medication for chronic pain, and a man said his three brothers were convicted for the manufacture and use of meth.
The trial is in federal court because the Trace is a federal parkway.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.