Witness: Victim was reckless

Posted: Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The first defense witness called to testify in the Jamie Petterson murder trial told the court he saw the Anchorage couple's Jeep driving erratically and passing unsafely shortly before the collision that took their lives.

Erwin "Jamie" Petterson Jr., 29, of Kenai, is on trial in Kenai Superior Court, charged with four counts of second-degree murder, for allegedly causing the deaths of Robert Weiser, 60, and Donna Weiser, 56.

On Tuesday, after Kenai Superior Court Judge Charles Cranston denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges, Petterson's attorneys began calling witnesses, one of whom called 911 on Oct. 12, 2002, to report the wreck on the Seward Highway near Bertha Creek.

"Down in Portage Flats I seen the Jeep," said Steve Couture, one of the first on the scene of the head-on collision between Petterson's northbound Ford F-150 pickup and the Weisers' southbound Jeep Grand Cherokee.

"I had passed a car. The Jeep come and tried to pass me. I slammed on the brakes. He pulled-in in front of me. There was cars comin'. Then he pulled out again," Couture said.

When asked by defense attorney Chuck Robinson what he was thinking at the time, Couture said, "I thought to myself, if this was winter, I'd find this guy in a ditch and I would not pull him out."

Couture said the Jeep was going about 85 mph and the passing had occurred in a no-passing zone.

A few minutes later, he said he heard the crash.

"I did not see the actual wreck. I heard the crunch of it," Couture said.

Couture, a carpenter from Anchorage who said he travels to Soldotna about six times a year to visit a brother who lives there, said he stopped at the wreck and tried putting out a fire burning in the Jeep's engine compartment, but the fire kept reigniting.

He then helped pull Donna Weiser from the wreck but could not move Robert Weiser, who was pinned between the steering wheel and the top of the seat.

He warned other motorists who had stopped to help, to get back before the vehicle exploded.

It did, three minutes later, he said.

The Weisers died at the seen.

Couture singed his hair and eyebrows from the fire, while trying to put it out before the explosion.

He told the court the collision occurred in an area where cell phones would not work, so he drove toward Soldotna and was able to get through to 911 dispatchers only after he reached Summit Lake.

Robinson played a tape recording of the 911 call.

"There's one injured and two are dead," he could be heard telling the 911 operator.

"They were passing like crazy coming up the pass," he said.

"Who was?" asked the operator.

"The people in the Jeep," Couture said on the tape.

He testified that several motorists had seen the Jeep driving erratically and passing in a no-passing zone, including a vehicle towing a 36-foot boat.

"The boat guy had to pull off in a turnoff," he said.

"He was forced off the road?" asked Robinson.

"He had to pull off," said Couture.

While being questioned by assistant district attorney June Stein, Couture said he was unsure of what color the Jeep was.

"Black and blue look a lot alike. I'm color blind," he said.

"What colors do you see truthfully?" Stein asked.

"How do I know? Dark blue, green, black look the same to me," he said.

"Down on Portage Flats it was dark blue, dark green," he said.

Stein played a tape recording of a police interview with Couture on which he said he did not see the vehicle again after he was passed, but later testified that he saw glimpses of it as traffic moved up a hill prior to the crash.

"Oh, it was the same vehicle," he said.

As Stein questioned Couture about the consistency of things he reported during the 911 call, statements he later made to investigators and testimony he gave Tuesday, he loudly said he did not say anything consistently.

The jury trial, now in its third week, is scheduled to resume today at 8:30 a.m.

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