MAYS LANDING — Who was driving the car involved in a fatal 2011 crash outside a Somers Point bar was the focus of closing arguments Monday as the case went to the jury.
Antonio Vargas, 24, was allegedly drunk and speeding early Jan. 6, 2011, when he hit the curb, took out a pole, struck a truck and a fire hydrant before crashing into the front door of Gregory's Bar and Restaurant.
Vargas killed passenger Kevin Botta, 33, and severely injured another man, the state alleges.
But Vargas was hanging out of the passenger side when the mangled car came to a rest, witnesses testified.
Vargas faces eight criminal counts including vehicular homicide and aggravated manslaughter.
Both sides agree the car belonged to Vargas and that video surveillance outside the Wawa where the two men made their last known stop shows him getting behind the wheel.
Barbone focused on what may have occurred in the three minutes between when the car is seen leaving the Wawa at Shore Road and Maryland Avenue and when the crash happened a short distance away, indicating the two men may have switched places.
But it wasn't three minutes, acting First Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton said, showing the jurors the Wawa surveillance video again. She focused on the 55 seconds that pass between when the car is seen leaving the Wawa parking lot and when the lights there go out, the result, she said, of the car striking a pole outside the bar.
The time on the Wawa video shows 12:55 a.m., not 12:58 a.m., which is the time all the police and emergency reports have as the time of the crash.
The clocks may have been three minutes different, Ruberton said, but the time lapse is what's important.
"It wasn't some other mystery power outage that night," Ruberton said. "There was only one."
Emergency medical technician Michelle Irizarry testified during the trial that she believed Vargas was the passenger. But, Ruberton said, that was the first time in more than two years that the witness — who had been interviewed twice, wrote up the EMT report and wrote two witness statements — had indicated that.
Barbone said her years as an EMT gave her good background for making such a deduction. Ruberton said the woman was "trying to be the hero."
As in his opening, Barbone said only two people knew for sure where the men were in the car: Vargas and Botta. However, Vargas — whose injuries included amnesia, according to the doctor's report — did not testify.
Barbone said the state could have presented an expert to tell the jurors what may have happened inside the car as it made five separat impacts during the crash, but did not.
"The state said they criss-crossed," Barbone said. "That is the scientific formula you are asked to base your verdict on today."
But Ruberton said the expert was not necessary because other evidence and common sense tell the jurors what happened.
Deliberations will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
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