Supreme Court denies Holznagel appealFamily of Mitchell teen killed in 2006 accident had sought damages
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
The South Dakota Supreme Court has denied an appeal by a Mitchell family regarding a boy’s 2006 death.
The family of Ethan Holznagel appealed a 2010 trial judge’s decision to disallow evidence of habitual marijuana use by a man involved in Holznagel’s fatal traffic accident.
Holznagel’s vehicle collided with a Dependable Sanitation truck driven by John Cutsinger at Gamble Street and Eighth Avenue in April 2006. Cutsinger made a wide right turn, but testimony at trial also indicated Holznagel was distracted and speeding just prior to the collision.
Holznagel was a teenager at Mitchell High School and worked at Coborn’s Superstore. He died as a result of injuries from the accident.
After the accident, Holznagel’s family sued Dependable Sanitation and Cutsinger. The family claimed, among other things, that Cutsinger turned too widely at the intersection. The Holznagels sought at least $15,050 in damages.
Cutsinger admitted to using marijuana when he went home later on the day of the 2006 accident. District Judge Sean O’Brien granted the defense’s motion to exclude that information from the 2010 trial.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the appeal on Oct. 5 during the court’s October session in Mitchell on the Dakota Wesleyan University campus.
Holznagel’s lawyers, Jim Miskimins and Jim Taylor, of Mitchell, did not present an expert to give testimony on the effects of marijuana at trial. They instead argued jurors could have used common sense and everyday experience to make a decision on Cutsinger’s marijuana use, had the evidence of the marijuana use been admitted.
The Supreme Court justices agreed with the defense that “asking jurors to assess how an intoxicating substance may impair one’s perception hours after ingestion, without assistance of an expert, differs from asking jurors to assess how actual intoxication impairs perception.”
The justices stated in their unanimous opinion, which was filed Wednesday, that Judge O’Brien’s exclusion of Cutsinger’s marijuana use was not an abuse of the judge’s discretion.