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Vehicular manslaughter trial in Suffolk takes sudden turn

Christopher Campbell, of Sound Beach, leaves First District

Christopher Campbell, of Sound Beach, leaves First District Court in Central Islip April 14, 2015, after being charged in the October 2014, hit-and-run death of Tracy Mangino, of Miller Place. Credit: James Carbone

The vehicular manslaughter trial of a Sound Beach man took a last-minute detour Thursday when a Suffolk prosecutor tried to question the medical examiner about whether an intoxicated driver was capable of staying in his lane.

The question drew an immediate objection from defense attorneys, prompting the judge to halt testimony and hear legal arguments.

Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan had been testifying, as he normally does, about the autopsy and cause of death of a victim — in this case, Tracy Mangino, 40.

She was killed Oct. 18, 2014, when a box truck driven by her neighbor hit her as she walked home drunk from a bar. The neighbor, Christopher Campbell, 37, is on trial in Central Islip.

Prosecutors say he also was intoxicated when he hit her and left the scene, but the only evidence of that is the testimony earlier this week of his former girlfriend. There is no blood test showing his blood-alcohol level and people who were with him that night at three bars say he drank little, if at all.

Caplan testified first about the injuries Mangino suffered, which included a snapped neck, a rivet-shaped depression in her skull, more than a dozen broken ribs and other injuries. He said she also had a blood-alcohol level of 0.22 percent, almost three times the legal threshold for driving while intoxicated.

Assistant District Attorney Maggie Bopp then asked Caplan about the effects of alcohol on the body, which he described. He also said people who have developed tolerance to alcohol may not show the signs of intoxication as clearly as others.

Bopp then asked if someone with a tolerance for alcohol was capable of driving a truck perfectly in its lane — as Campbell was doing when he hit Mangino. Campbell’s attorneys, William Keahon of Hauppauge and George Duncan of Central Islip, objected.

There has been no evidence presented at the trial that either Campbell or Mangino drank often enough to have developed a tolerance for alcohol.

State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho ordered jurors out of the courtroom and brought the lawyers into his chambers. A loud discussion was audible in the courtroom.

When they returned, Camacho said Bopp was attempting “with an inartful question” to establish that alcohol affects a person’s ability to perceive and react to something, which he said was proper.

“I think it’s perfectly legitimate if it’s done the right way,” Camacho said, but he said he would discuss it further with attorneys Friday morning to make sure it is done correctly.

Camacho also said he will rule before the trial’s end whether prosecutors have proved that Campbell was intoxicated.

The judge said the issue of alcohol’s effects “cuts both ways,” and suggested Mangino’s intoxication when she bent over into the road just as Campbell’s truck came upon her was relevant.

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