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Trial testimony begins

Witnesses’ memories and sometimes their patience were tested after the start of vehicular manslaughter defendant Raymond P. Herve’s trial Tuesday in Nevada County Superior Court.

People recalled seeing different vehicles in different positions and of different colors at the March 7, 2001, crash that killed one driver and left another brain-damaged.

Herve, a 46-year-old Grass Valley-area resident, is accused of racing with another driver, Bruce D. Kirkpatrick, 62, of Nevada City, on westbound Highway 20 near the county fairgrounds.



Kirkpatrick suffered head injuries from a collision with 22-year-old Jesse Roberts, who died at the scene. Kirkpatrick was later deemed incompetent to stand trial because of his injuries.

One witness, car buff Travis McMaster, had thought Herve’s blue 1969 Ford Thunderbird was maroon after reading The Union’s first-day account, although the paper reported the car was blue.




Defense lawyer Ron Lange seized on that, and McMaster said he couldn’t explain the discrepancy.

“In my mind I thought it was maroon until I saw the vehicle” at the California Highway Patrol’s Grass Valley garage, he said. Then he was sure the car was blue with a white roof.

His brother, Darren McMaster, told the CHP that Kirkpatrick’s Chevy pickup was orange, despite its multiple colors. “But I didn’t say it was solid orange,” he said.

The brothers saw the pickup and then the Thunderbird speed westbound toward the Brighton Street overpass, with the pickup in front. They lost sight of the vehicles after taking the Mill Street exit and didn’t learn about the crash until the next day.

Crash witness Myles Freebern followed the vehicles after spotting what he thought was a friend’s white Ford Focus amongst other vehicles. He never caught the white car despite driving roughly 100 mph – an admission that astonished Judge Ersel Edwards – but saw the pickup skid out of control before impact.

Freebern became irritated when asked to estimate speeds and distances, but he was clear he didn’t recall seeing a vehicle in front of the pickup.

“Something just happened,” he said. “Like someone slammed on their brakes in front of him, you know?”

That’s just the theory Deputy District Attorney Dave Walters presented in his opening statement. There was no contact between the vehicles, but Kirkpatrick lost control after Herve braked in front of him, the prosecutor claimed.

The trial’s first witness, Larry Self, said he was hauling cement when he saw the pickup abruptly switch from the Golden Center Freeway’s southbound fast lane to the exit ramp leading to Highway 20. The truck cut in front of a car and a race was on, he said.

He approached the crash and – surprised he didn’t see the blue car – kept driving and next spotted the vehicle near Penn Valley Drive. He suspected it was involved after seeing a dent and paint transfers on the driver’s side – despite CHP findings that no contact occurred.

Self later said he couldn’t positively identify Herve as the Thunderbird driver.

Kirkpatrick’s speed before impact was an estimated 89 mph, the CHP reported. Auto repairman Bill White, a defense witness who worked on Kirkpatrick’s truck and knew his family, testified that the truck would have to strain to move that fast because the throttle was altered for slower speeds and heavy hauling up steep grades.

Herve’s wife and Roberts’ family were in the courtroom. The trial resumes today. Herve has opted to have Edwards, rather than a jury, decide his fate.


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