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Rhomer v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

April 12, 2017

William Joe RHOMER, Appellant
The STATE of Texas, Appellee

         From the 290th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2012CR9066 Honorable Melisa Skinner, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice, Marialyn Barnard, Justice, Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.


          Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice.

         In the underlying criminal prosecution, appellant, William Rhomer, was indicted on three counts: felony murder, intoxication manslaughter, and manslaughter. All three counts stemmed from the same fatal vehicular collision between appellant's car and the decedent's motorcycle. The indictment contained an enhancement that appellant had been previously convicted as a repeat offender of the felony offense of driving while intoxicated. A jury found appellant guilty on all three counts and assessed punishment at seventy-five years' confinement. In its judgment, the trial court abandoned counts two and three and sentenced appellant to seventy-five years on only count one.

         On appeal, appellant asserts the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of two police officers who testified about the accident. Detective John Doyle opined the accident happened because appellant drove into the decedent's lane of traffic. Officer Sean Graham testified he did not believe appellant's contention that Chavez drove into appellant's lane of traffic. Appellant contends Detective Doyle was not qualified to render an expert opinion on how the accident occurred and his testimony was not reliable. Appellant contends the trial court erred by allowing Officer Graham to offer his lay opinion because he had no background in accident reconstruction. Finally, appellant asserts the cumulative effect of these errors rendered his trial fundamentally unfair.


         There is no dispute that on the night of the accident appellant was driving his car on Colwick Street coming from the Coco Beach Bar, a few blocks west of the accident site. Colwick curves into and intersects with Nakoma Drive, and Nakoma has both eastbound and westbound lanes. Travelling from the bar, appellant turned from Colwick into the eastbound lane of Nakoma. The decedent, Gilbert Chavez, was travelling on his motorcycle in the westbound lane of Nakoma.

         Mario Negron and Kenneth Ferrer testified they were driving their vehicle in the westbound lane of Nakoma when they came upon the accident at around 3:00 a.m. on May 2, 2012. They both testified they drove over pieces of metal on Nakoma. They stopped their vehicle at the accident scene, and both testified Chavez was breathing heavily and his body was contorted, with bones sticking out. Appellant also was at the scene, stumbling around. Appellant approached Negron and Ferrer, who were with Chavez, and said, "Oh, he looks ok." Appellant told two of the police officers at the scene that Chavez drove into appellant's lane of traffic. Appellant told one of the officers that Chavez "pulled out in front of" him, and that Chavez "had gone around him as if [Chavez] was traveling in the same direction as [appellant] and hit [appellant] on his right side . . . ." Chavez was transported to a hospital where he died from his injuries. Dr. Randy Frost, the Bexar County Chief Medical Examiner, testified multiple traumatic blunt force injuries were the cause of death, and the injuries were consistent with an automobile accident.


         Witnesses who are not experts may testify about opinions or inferences, but only when those opinions or inferences are rationally based on the perception of the witness and helpful to a clear understanding of the witness's testimony or the determination of a fact in issue. Tex. R. Evid. 701. An expert witness may offer an opinion if he is qualified by his knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education to do so and if scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or to determining a fact in issue. Tex. R. Evid. 702.

         The admissibility of evidence is within the discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Powell v. State, 63 S.W.3d 435, 438 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001). An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court acts without reference to any guiding rules and principles or acts arbitrarily or unreasonably. Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 380 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990).


         San Antonio Police Detective John Doyle was dispatched to the scene of the accident where he observed a car that appeared to have crashed into the pillars of a building and a motorcycle in the parking lot. Doyle conducted a visual inspection of the accident scene and, based on the debris field and tire marks, he determined an area of impact between the two vehicles. Doyle measured the scene using a Sokkia instrument (a device also used for surveying), and created a scaled diagram showing all tire marks, evidence points, debris, and to calculate speed. However, in this case, Doyle said he did not calculate the speed of the vehicles because of the weight differential between the two vehicles and because appellant's car struck a building. Based on the lack of tire marks on the street, Doyle stated there was no pre-impact braking by either vehicle. Doyle was able to identify debris from the motorcycle because he had seen "numerous motorcycle crashes." Doyle said he himself rides motorcycles. He did not believe EMS had moved any debris on the roadway, and had only moved the debris near where Chavez lay on the ground. Doyle also testified about the damage to the left side of the motorcycle and to the left side of Chavez's body.

         Based on the debris left by the motorcycle after the collision, tire marks, curb strikes, the curvature of the road, and the final resting position of the motorcycle, car, and Chavez's body in the parking lot on the westbound side of Nakoma, ...

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