Army sergeant acquitted in traffic deaths of two Germans
WüRZBURG, Germany — An Army sergeant was acquitted at a court-martial Tuesday in the traffic deaths of two German nationals earlier this year.
Sgt. Kelly A. Carter, of the Bamberg- based 317th Maintenance Company, 71st Corps Support Battalion, faced a charge with two specifications of negligent homicide for the deaths of Birgit Weissenhorn and her 9-year-old daughter, Lena. Carter’s Ford pickup collided with the victims’ Volkswagen Passat on a road off of Autobahn 7 between Kitzingen and Würzburg at about 6 p.m. on Jan. 9.
According to accounts in court, Carter made a left turn to head west into Würzburg off of the autobahn. The victims’ car was traveling east and collided with the front of Carter’s truck, sending the Passat spinning into oncoming traffic, where it was hit by another vehicle. The victims’ car had the right of way, according to road diagrams provided in court.
The driver and another passenger in the Passat were injured, and testified during the two-day trial that they did not remember the accident.
The trial took emotional turns at times, with the driver of the second vehicle to hit the Passat testifying that he was still in anguish over the fatal wreck.
As the verdict was read Tuesday night, the German driver of the Passat and his girlfriend, who is the sister and aunt of the victims, started shouting in German before exiting the courtroom with an anti- American, expletive-laced barrage.
The trial took place in Würzburg because the 1st Infantry Division has convening authority over units in northern Bavaria, including Carter’s, 1st ID spokesman Maj. William Coppernoll said this week.
During two days of testimony arguments by the military prosecution and Carter’s civilian defense centered on whether the Passat’s headlights were on when the accident occurred.
Prosecutors argued that Carter had a yield sign in front of him and was in a rush to get gas at Leighton Barracks. As a result, he was hasty and negligent to the safety of others, resulting in the deaths.
“This case is about a driver who was in a hurry,” prosecutor Capt. Brad Glendening told the enlisted-and-officer-comprised jury. “When traffic is coming at you at 100 kph, you have an obligation.”
The defense contended that there was no physical proof that the headlights of the Passat were on at the time of the collision.
Such an accident is a tragedy, but it is not one that Carter should be held criminally accountable for, said David Court, his civilian lawyer.
“[The Passat’s headlights] weren’t on, for whatever reason,” Court told the jury during his closing arguments.
Various witnesses at the scene testified to seeing the Passat’s lights on, but an accident expert said that there was no scientific way to determine if the headlights had been on when the collision occurred.
One truck driver going in the opposite direction of the Passat that night said he did not recall seeing its headlights until he heard the crash and saw the car spinning from the impact in his rearview mirror.
Court argued that panel members could not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the lights were on at the time of the collision.
The prosecution questioned Court’s theory, calling it “smoke and mirrors.”
A military police officer who responded to the scene took a photo of the Passat’s dashboard that showed the headlight switch to be on, but Court argued that it could have been accidentally turned on when paramedics were taking victims out of the mangled vehicle.
Carter would not comment after the verdict was read.