WAVERLY, Iowa --- Tuesday's victory in court brought neither happiness nor enjoyment.
“I guess I was relieved the jury saw the facts as the state did,” Bremer County Attorney Kasey Wadding said.
Seven men and five women needed about two hours to conclude Alex Pothast is guilty of vehicular homicide based on intoxication and of vehicular homicide based on reckless driving. Their decision followed a six-day trial and hours of testimony.
Authorities charged Pothast, then 17 years old, after Joshua Young was killed in a violent, one-car crash. He died March 21, 2010, after being ejected from the vehicle.
“They were friends, and there’s a tragedy in that,” Wadding told jurors in his closing argument. “ ... But it’s not about the relationship between the defendant and Josh Young.”
Authorities alleged Pothast, now 20, had been drinking most of the night with others, including Young. A witness, Alexandra Cain, told jurors about helping Pothast as he stumbled down stairs and then taking his car keys away. Cain also testified Pothast passed out on her shoulder as she drove into Waverly, and vomited in a parking lot.
Wadding described Cain’s testimony, which she shared in court at times through tears, as “the intersection of truth and friendship.”
“She knows that he’s in danger and not only him but his passengers,” Wadding added.
Pothast did get back behind the steering wheel that night, according to another witness, Cole Staudt. He said he was a passenger in the back seat. Staudt, then 16 years old, testified hearing Pothast brag about reaching 100 mph.
And then the vehicle went out of control and rolled down 240th Street south of Waverly.
No one, as defense attorney Matt Lindholm noted in closing arguments, contests Pothast was driving or that when his vehicle crashed, Young died as a result.
“We’re not really even contesting the intoxication,” Lindholm told jurors.
“What we are contesting is vehicular homicide by intoxication,” he added.
Lindholm said the state offered no evidence that Pothast’s alleged intoxication caused the crash. In fact, he reminded jurors of testimony from an earlier defense witness, Sgt. Shawn Gyorke of Arlington Height, Ill.
Gyorke, an accident reconstruction expert, put the cause of the crash on speed, conceding Pothast was going at least 80 mph on a gravel road in poor condition.
“I fail to see how the outcome of the situation doesn’t result in some sort of crash,” Gyorke testified Tuesday morning.
Wadding after Tuesday’s verdict noted the prevalence of underage drinking. He said the trial may serve as a reminder for parents and youth and may be the one good thing to come out of the case. Wadding added he hoped families “would take account of their young people and try to keep them safe.”
Young’s mother declined comment after hearing the jury’s decision, referring questions to Wadding.
“She just simply asked if I thought that would be the outcome. I just told her the facts supported that outcome,” Wadding said.
He noted slightly more than three years passed between the fatal crash and Tuesday’s verdict.
“For a victim’s family, it can take a long time to feel like there is some end to the case,” Wadding added.
Rosenbladt ordered Pothast to face sentencing June 24. The judge also ordered him to seek a substance abuse evaluation and to cooperate with a presentence investigation by the Iowa Department of Corrections.
Conviction for vehicular homicide based on intoxication, a Class B felony, is punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Conviction of vehicular homicide based on reckless driving, a Class C felony, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“People don’t see that kind of time in these types of situations. But it is a possibility,” Wadding said.
Wadding declined comment on what sentence he might recommend. The presentence investigation, though, will likely include information on Pothast’s other legal problem.
Pothast’s criminal record includes an arrest for having an open container while driving in June 2009 in Bremer County. As part of a negotiated plea deal, however, the charge was amended to open container as a passenger, according to court documents.
Pothast also has a conviction for underage possession of alcohol in January 2011 in Fayette County. Pothast participated in a “house party” on New Year’s Eve, according to court documents.
Cedar Falls police in October 2012 arrested Pothast for second-degree criminal mischief, a Class D felony. The charge stems from a rash of broken windows, according to court documents. A plea hearing is scheduled May 17 in that case in Waterloo.
In December, law enforcement officials in Butler County cited Pothast for driving without a valid license. He pleaded not guilty in January, and the court dismissed the charge in February, according to public records.
Earlier: Jury begins deliberations
1:30 p.m. - WAVERLY, Iowa --- Jurors are weighing evidence in Alex Pothast's criminal trial in Bremer County District Court.
Attorneys concluded closing statements this morning, and Judge Gregg Rosenbladt turned the case over to the jury at about 12:50 p.m.
Pothast, 20, is charged with vehicular homicide based on intoxication and with vehicular homicide based on reckless driving. Jurors might also consider lesser charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and reckless driving.
The two counts date back to Joshua Young's death in March 2010 during a fatal crash in rural Waverly.
No one, as defense attorney Matt Lindholm noted, contests that Pothast was driving and that when his vehicle rolled, Young died as a result.
"We're not really even contesting the intoxication," Lindholm told jurors.
"What we are contesting is vehicular homicide by intoxication," he added.
Lindholm said the state offered no evidence that Pothast's alleged intoxication caused the crash. In fact, he reminded jurors of testimony from an earlier defense witness, Sgt. Shawn Gyorke of Arlington Height, Ill.
Gyorke placed the cause of the accident on speed, conceding Pothast was going at least 80 mph and perhaps as fast as 100 mph on a gravel road in poor condition.
"I fail to see how the outcome of the situation doesn't result in some sort of crash," Gyorke testified.
Conviction for vehicular homicide based on intoxication, a Class B felony, is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
Conviction of vehicular homicide based on reckless driving, a Class C felony, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.