Thursday, May 8, 2003 Print This | Email This     

Witnesses recount gruesome drag racing accident

By Harriet Ryan, Court TV

SAN DIEGO (Court TV) — A veteran law enforcement officer broke down on the witness stand Thursday as he recalled the scene of carnage resulting from a drag race that killed two teenagers.

"The vehicle's underbody was detached from its frame," said San Diego police officer Erik Pollock of the compact car carrying the teens. Choking back tears, the 6-foot 3-inch, 260-pound lawman added, "It was kind of like if you took a tin can and twisted it and bent it."

Two drag racers, George Waller Jr. and Lawrence Calhoun, face second-degree murder charges in connection with the wreck last October. The men were coursing down a city avenue at speeds reaching 87 miles per hour when Waller's vintage Plymouth broadsided a Geo Storm driven by Shanna Jump, 19.

The college student and her boyfriend, Brian Hanson, also 19, were killed and Hanson's 17-year-old brother, Michael, suffered severe brain injuries. A passenger in Waller's car, Jason Moore, was also hurt.

The defendants, the first San Diegans to face murder charges in connection with illegal street racing, face 30 years in prison if convicted.

Testimony got underway in the case Thursday morning with six prosecution witnesses, including the coroner who described the massive internal injuries that killed both teens, and the mother of the Hansons.

Deborah Hanson was on the stand for only a few moments to testify that Jump knew the way to her home, but there was a moment of raw emotion in her cursory appearance.

"Do you have a son by the name of Brian?" asked Deputy District Attorney Blaine Bowman.

"I used to," she replied.

Also testifying was a motorist who watched the accident in his rearview mirror. Several jurors leaned forward in the jury box as that eyewitness, Jonathan Spooner, recounted how he approached the intersection of Imperial Avenue and Viewcrest Road the evening of Oct. 6 and immediately suspected a drag race was occurring.

Two men were standing near the intersection, a popular finish line for illegal races, staring up the road, Spooner said. He said he followed their gaze up the road and saw two cars — one with its headlights off — barreling toward the intersection.

"I heard the sound of the motors ... It sounded like two engines being pushed," Spooner, a 22-year-old skateboarding instructor, testified. He said the cars were traveling about 50 miles per hour, but quickly accelerating.

Fearing a finish-line spin-out, Spooner gunned his pickup truck into a left turn in front of the oncoming cars and onto a side street. He said that when he looked in his rearview mirror, "I just saw a blue flash and a big cloud of smoke."

The explosion was the blue Plymouth colliding with Jump's small white car, while she was attempting to make the same left turn Spooner had.

Defense lawyer Nelson Brav, who represents Waller, used Spooner's testimony to hint that Jump had played some role in the accident by not yielding to the oncoming racers. Spooner said that the onrushing cars were obvious to him despite the dusky conditions, and Brav pointed out that the vehicles would only have been closer and louder as Jump made the same turn.

The most riveting testimony of the morning came from Officer Pollock. His voice wavered as he told jurors how he ran to Jump's car and saw her slumped in the seat. He felt for a pulse, he said, but could not detect one.

"At that point, I didn't think she was still alive," he said.

Brian Hanson's heart was beating weakly, Pollock said, but the teen was mortally wounded and the crumpled steel made extrication impossible.

"I couldn't do anything to get him out," Pollock sniffled. "I couldn't do CPR or anything. He was pinned down."

Outside court, Pollock, who has testified in 50 cases during his career, said, "that was probably the most difficult time on the stand."

As he testified, he said, he was thinking of the teens.

"You could just tell by looking they were good kids. They were dressed just like your little brother or sister would be — just all-American kids," he said. He remembered school books and book bags in the vehicle, and the accident's impact threw a guitar belonging to one of the victims from the vehicle.

"What bothers me is just the senseless loss of life for something so stupid as drag racing," Pollock said.