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Wednesday, February 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Gerlach’s single bullet paralyzed, killed Kaluza-Graham quickly

The bullet fired by Gail Gerlach would have robbed Brendon Kaluza-Graham of his motor skills within “moments” and killed him almost as quickly, Spokane County Medical Examiner Sally Aiken said Thursday.

“He would be completely unable to move physically after this injury,” Aiken told jurors in the second day of testimony in Gerlach’s manslaughter trial.

Witnesses called by prosecutors detailed the injuries to Kaluza-Graham and the aftermath, which included losing control of the SUV he’d stolen from Gerlach’s driveway the morning of March 25, 2013. Prosecutors hope to prove Gerlach acted with criminal recklessness when he fired a single round that killed Kaluza-Graham and left the SUV barreling down the residential street where some students were walking to a bus stop.

But defense attorney David Stevens attempted to poke holes in the police investigation of the shooting and convince jurors that Kaluza-Graham had the time and ability to point at Gerlach in a threatening manner prior to the shooting.

Stevens asked Aiken if it were possible Kaluza-Graham may have moved in the seconds between when he sped from Gerlach’s driveway and when the self-employed plumber opened fire. Investigators estimate the bullet pierced the rear windshield of the car from a distance of up to 63 feet.

“I don’t know if his head was in motion when the bullet entered his head. I would have no way to know that,” Aiken said. She also said she could not determine if, in the moments prior to the shooting, Kaluza-Graham had been turned toward Gerlach.

Joseph Bercier, a neighbor, testified he heard a gunshot behind him and an engine revving. He then turned and saw the SUV speed past him. At the time, he saw the driver’s hands in the air and something green, perhaps a bucket, being thrown from the vehicle, he said.

“I saw just a flash; I couldn’t really see,” Bercier said. “I thought it was someone I knew.”

Several scene investigators also testified Thursday. They said they saw no green bucket or any type of weapon at the scene. A closed pocketknife was found in Kaluza-Graham’s pocket during an autopsy, as well as a black flashlight and a key fob about 4 inches long, Aiken said.

Robert McKinley, the owner of the property where the SUV crashed, is deaf in one ear and didn’t hear the collision. His first indication of the chaos was seeing investigators and news reporters in his backyard. The crash caused about $19,000 damage, McKinley said.

A 15-year-old boy testified that he was walking to his bus stop near the property when the crash occurred. He ran “about a half a block,” he guessed, to avoid the careening SUV and was “terrified,” he said.

Gerlach had loaded his gun with hollow-point ammunition designed to mushroom inside the target and avoid collateral damage, Glenn Davis, a firearms investigator with the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, told jurors.

Stevens asked whether this meant the cartridges were safer than other types of ammunition. Davis would not say that was the case in all situations.

A crime scene diagram prepared by police investigator Brad Hallock indicated that there was a distance of about 60 feet between a spent shell casing and where glass from the broken rear window of the SUV was found on Lee Street. Stevens asked whether this meant for certain that Gerlach was that far from the vehicle when he fired.

Hallock was noncommittal, but did say under questioning from Prosecutor Deric Martin that the first time a moving vehicle hits a divot in the road, glass “tends to break and fall out.”

The trial resumes Monday.

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