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Jury: USF not liable for man’s death

After approximately 1 1/2 hours of deliberation Wednesday, a jury unanimously cleared USF of liability in the death of a man hit by a University Police car in 2001.

On Oct. 13, 2001, Jack Denton was hit by a car driven by former UP officer Jeremy Poston while walking across Fowler Avenue near Nebraska Avenue.

But the lawyer for Denton’s mother says that, despite the unanimous decision, the case was much closer and harder to decide than it may appear.

“The jury did take an hour and a half to reach this decision, but the fact that they took that long shows that there is a question and that they were serious about reaching the right conclusion,” attorney Paul Kimsey said. “The jury was very attentive to the evidence in this case; they got to ask questions of the witnesses, and the nature of the questions they asked showed that they understood the evidence and were very careful to come to the right decision.”

William Smoak, attorney for USF in the case, did not return phone calls to his office Wednesday.

Elena Ruiz-Aho, who was driving a car near the scene of the accident, gave what Kimsey described as a “very persuasive” testimony. According to Ruiz, she was driving slightly ahead of Poston in the lane next to him at about 8 p.m. when she narrowly missed hitting Denton. Poston claims Ruiz’s car blocked his view of Denton, and that he subsequently hit him, Kimsey said.

Kimsey, who said he plans to appeal the decision, said one of the question marks entering the trial was the position of the cars of Ruiz, Poston and Ruiz’s brother, who was also driving at the scene. According to Kimsey, the testimonies of the siblings conflicted, leaving room for questions. He would not go into detail regarding the inconsistencies.

According to Kimsey, both sides used expert witnesses in efforts to reconstruct the accident and determine Poston’s speed at the accident. Kimsey said the defense’s experts claimed Poston was driving between 35 and 45 miles per hour in the 45 mph zone, while the prosecution’s experts claimed Poston was speeding.

Another fact that came up at the trial, Kimsey said, was Denton’s mental condition.

“The fact that he had cerebral palsy and the fact that he is mentally handicapped did come up at the trial,” Kimsey said. “It was one of the things the jury could have considered then deciding … whether (Poston and Denton) acted as reasonable under the circumstances as they could have.”

Ruiz said that, from what she saw, the prosecution’s case placed significant emphasis on Denton’s handicap. She said the prosecution indicated that she and Poston should accept full responsibility for the accident because of Denton’s condition.