William F. Ehemann v. State of Arkansas

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OCTOBER 27, 2004




NO. CR 2002-630





Andree Layton Roaf, Judge

Appellant William F. Ehemann appeals from a jury verdict finding him guilty of leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death. The jury recommended and the trial court accepted a sentence of fourteen days' incarceration in the Pope County Detention Center, five years' probation, a $5000 fine, and court costs of $150. On appeal, Ehemann challenges the sufficiency of the evidence. We affirm.

On August 31, 2002, the victim, Ashley Paladino, and Ladawna Bryant left a party and went for a walk between 12:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. The girls were walking along Southwest Third Street when they heard a vehicle come up behind them. The car was traveling in the ditch and headed for the girls. When they realized that the car was headed in their direction and did not appear to be slowing down, they ran toward the other side of the road. Bryant made it to the yellow centerline when the car struck Paladino, sending her sixty-three feet from the point of impact to the ditch on the other side of the road. Bryant yelled for the driver to stop, but he did not. She testified that the car was a light colored gray or white, mid-size vehicle with square taillights, and that the driver was a larger-sized man. There were no other passengers in the car. When the driver did not stop, Bryant went to Paladino's aid. She called for help because she was unable to assist Paladino alone. When she turned Paladino's head to speak to her, blood came from her ears and mouth. Following the accident, Bryant observed a piece of the vehicle and Paladino's shoe lying in the road.

The Atkins Police Department responded to the accident. Patrolman Michael Hubbard arrived and observed that blood was coming from Paladino's head and she was unconscious. He also recovered two pieces of evidence from the scene; they were found within inches of each other and six to eight inches from the point of impact. Based on witness statements and the evidence recovered from the scene, the suspected vehicle was narrowed down to a 1982-1986 Chevrolet Capri or a 1982-1986 Pontiac Parisienne. On October 29, 2002, Sergeant Scott Harper applied for a search warrant for Ehemann's 1986 Pontiac Parisienne. The vehicle was four-door, gray in color and had damage to its front right light assembly. Harper removed the headlight assembly and sent it to the Arkansas State Crime Lab for analysis. Chantelle Taylor of the crime lab compared the two recovered pieces of evidence with Ehemann's headlight assembly. The results of Taylor's comparison showed that the two pieces recovered from the scene matched perfectly with Ehemann's broken headlight assembly. Taylor testified that due to the uniqueness of the break, it was impossible for the pieces to have come from any other vehicle.

Ehemann denied hitting anyone on August 31, 2002. He stated that he was at work that night, and admitted that he would have traveled on Southwest Third Street to go home at about the time Paladino was hit. He testified that no one had borrowed his car, and that the vehicle was damaged because he hit a deer in Russellville, Arkansas.

At the close of the State's evidence and again at the close of all evidence, Ehemann moved for a directed verdict, arguing that the direct evidence did not show that Ehemann was the driver of the car, and that the circumstantial evidence was not sufficient. The motions were denied, and this appeal follows.

A motion for directed verdict is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Booth v. State, 26 Ark. App. 115, 761 S.W.2d 607 (1989). On review, we consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the State, and affirm if substantial evidence supports the verdict. Id. Substantial evidence is evidence that is of sufficient force and character that it will, with reasonable certainty, compel a conclusion one way or the other without resorting to speculation or conjecture. Id. Guilt need not always be proven by direct evidence; circumstantial evidence can support a conviction. See id. The fact that the evidence is circumstantial does not render it insubstantial. Id. The jury is allowed to draw any reasonable inferences from the circumstantial evidence to the same extent that it can from direct evidence. Id.

We find that substantial evidence supports the jury's verdict. The victim was struck on Southwest Third Street, and Ehemann admitted that he would have been traveling down that road after work on his way home at the time Paladino was struck. Bryant testified that she observed a male driver, and Ehemann conceded that he had been the only person driving his vehicle. Bryant described the car as a gray, four-door mid-size car, and Ehemann's car fits that description. Most telling is Taylor's testimony that the evidence found at the scene of the crime and Ehemann's broken headlight matched perfectly when pieced together, and her testimony that, due to the uniqueness of the break, it was impossible for the parts to have come from another vehicle.


Griffen and Neal, JJ., agree.