VERO BEACH - What would have been a normal experience returning from a boating trip near Sebastian was altered as a woman walked along the beach, a woman recalled Tuesday.
"I heard someone screaming for help," Casey Suarez testified in Indian River County Circuit Court during the trial of former Highlands County Commissioner Jeff Carlson.
But although authorities have said that help ultimately arrived, it wasn't enough to save the life of Julie Carlson on July 24, 2010. Jeff Carlson, her husband, was later charged with boating manslaughter after being accused of operating a boat while intoxicated.
Dr. Sajid Qaiser, the chief medical examiner in Brevard County, testified that Julie Carlson died from blunt force injuries and complications."
He said she suffered from a large abrasion on the scalp, apparently from her head hitting something, and that an internal examination found bleeding in the skull, as well as a fracture.
Qaiser said he ruled the death accidental, but if he had been provided with information that the boat was operated by someone intoxicated he could have changed his determination to homicide.
He also testified that Suarez's observations about differences in how Julie Carlson's pupils were dilated wasn't unusual because of the injuries.
After hearing the cries for help, Suarez recalled that she saw the boat arrive and two women inside the boat. One of the women appeared to be holding the other woman's head, she said.
Suarez also noted a lot of blood and that the injured woman's breathing was "very shallow" and that at times she was "gasping for air."
"I asked what they needed and they said they needed an ambulance," Suarez said.
A certified nursing assistant, Suarez said she looked at Julie Carlson's injuries, while someone called 911.
Another witness, Lauren Thomas, said she had waited on Carlson and his wife when they arrived with another couple at Capt. Hiram's, a resort in the Sebastian area.
"They were in a good mood," she said, adding she saw no evidence that they were intoxicated. She said she would not have served alcohol had that been the case.
Thomas indicated she served two rum and cokes and another drink for Jeff Carlson, but couldn't say whether he consumed all the alcohol.
Sebring city administrator Scott Noethlich, the brother-in-law of Jeff Carlson who also was on the boat, testified Tuesday morning. The trial was expected to last through most of the week.
Authorities have maintained that Jeff Carlson recklessly operated the boat while intoxicated. Jeff Carlson has maintained he is not guilty of the charge.