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Expert casts doubt on impact point in soccer fan's death on Highway 101

Modified: Monday, Jan 27th, 2014

NEWPORT — A forensic engineer testified Friday a soccer trekker, who was hit and killed while walking along Highway 101 in Lincoln City, could have been in the lane of traffic when a vehicle collided with him last spring.

The testimony came during the third day of a jury trial at Lincoln County Circuit Court in the case of Scott Van Hiatt, 52, who stands accused of criminally negligent homicide stemming from the death of Richard Swanson on May 14.

“The impact could’ve been on either side of the fog line,” said Patrick Reidlinger, a forensic engineer and accident reconstructionist, who was responding to a question from defense attorney Richard Scholl.

The white fog line runs along the side of the highway, and separates the traffic lane from edge of the pavement. The distance between the fog line and the edge of the pavement is a little more than 6 feet.

Reidlinger said his finding was based largely on the “debris field” that stemmed from the accident in the 6300 block of Highway 101 in Lincoln City.

“It’s entirely possible Mr. Hiatt was in his lane of traffic (at the time of the accident),” Reidlinger said.

Swanson was hit and killed while making his way from Seattle to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Swanson, who was clad in shorts and sandals with an oversized backpack strapped to his body at the time of the incident, was hit by a 1994 Nissan pickup truck driven by Hiatt. He was walking on the southbound side of the highway about 9:45 a.m. when hit.

Witnesses said the impact sent Swanson, 42, up and over the front of the truck with his body apparently crashing into the truck’s windshield before careening off the vehicle, hitting a mailbox and landing in a roadside ditch next to a fence.

Portland-area resident Michael Taylor testified earlier in the trial he and his wife, Joyce Lind, spent the previous day at Beverly Beach State Park and wanted to check out an antique store before they headed home May 14. He said when they arrived at the antique store it was closed, so they sat in their car trying to figure out where to go eat breakfast.

At some point Taylor said he heard a “big crash” coming from the other side of the highway. He said he looked up and “saw his (Swanson’s) feet flying through the air.”

Taylor said he then rushed across the highway while telling his wife to call “9-1-1.” Taylor said what he saw next was Swanson on the ground with his feet twitching.

“It’s just an image I can’t get out of my mind,” said Taylor in response to an earlier question from Lincoln County deputy district attorney Elijah Michalowski, who is prosecuting the case.

Lind said it didn’t appear that Swanson did anything wrong as he was along the highway. She said Swanson couldn’t have been in a better “spot on the road.”

Shortly thereafter law enforcement officials and emergency personnel started to show up at the scene. One of those people was Lincoln City Police Department Officer Michael Blakely, who said during testimony Thursday that Hiatt told him he did not see Swanson until it was too late.

Authorities later determined Hiatt was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash. Investigators also ruled out mechanical issues with the truck and electronic devices as contributing factors.

But Hiatt might have been distracted a few second before the crash. Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Carla Urbigkeit testified Thursday she arrived at the scene of the accident about 11:25 a.m.

She said there were several officers at the scene, and the roadway was partially open on the northbound side. Urbigkeit said she spoke briefly with Hiatt.

“He was very polite,” she said.

Urbigkeit also said Hiatt told her he had looked over his shoulder while driving passing by ProBuild to see if any of his contractor “friends” were at the lumber yard. The lumber yard is located a short distance from the accident site.

Hiatt was apparently headed to a potential job site when the crash happened. After her testimony a juror submitted a question to Judge Sheryl Bachart, something that is common in criminal cases in the state.

“Did you Mirandize Mr. Hiatt?” the question stated.

Urbigkeit said she did not know if Hiatt had been read his rights before she spoke to him.

Another accident reconstructionist testifying Thursday on behalf of the prosecution said he found a “scuff mark” just west of the fog line suggesting Swanson was not in the traffic lane when hit by the pickup truck, which was also heading southbound on Highway 101.

“I believe that sandal made that scuff mark,” said Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Etheridge, who examined the accident site.

The “scuff mark” was located 4 feet, 1 inch west of the fog line, Etheridge testified.

The incident happened shortly after Swanson recorded a video of himself, and posted it online. According to his website — breakawaybrazil.com — Swanson planned to dribble a soccer ball along the entire route from Seattle to Sao Paulo to promote free “futbols” for people in Third World countries.

Police, who recovered a blue soccer ball as well as a video camera at the scene, said there was no indication Swanson was dribbling the ball when the vehicle hit him. Swanson was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Hiatt was arrested June 17 following an investigation into the incident, and held at Lincoln County Jail on $100,000 bail. He was arraigned the following day, June 18, at a hearing in which he appeared with an oxygen tank and mask.

He told the court at a follow-up hearing that he was a hospice patient, and was subsequently released from jail on a number of conditions. The conditions ranged from the surrender of his driver’s license to not operating a motor vehicle.

The jury trial is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Lincoln County Circuit Court.

Contact reporter Wyatt Haupt Jr. at 541-265-8571, ext. 240, or wyatt@newportnewstimes.com.

For the complete article see the 01-29-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-29-2014 paper.

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