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Revisiting The Erzinger Colorado Hit and Run Case: New Car Smell Defense

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mercedesThe Colorado car accident case of Morgan Stanley wealth manager Martin Erzinger has caused quite a stir this past November, when the prosecution decided to downgrade Erzinger’s charges from felony to misdemeanor because “having a felony on his record would impede his ability to earn a living.”

The charges stemmed from a hit and run accident on July 3rd in which Erzinger was the driver. He allegedly swerved onto the shoulder of the road and rear-ended a bicyclist named Steven Milo, and then sped off without stopping. Milo suffered both spinal and facial personal injuries in the collision, which his Colorado accident attorney states cause him consistent pain.

Erzinger is based in Denver’s Morgan Stanley office and handles extremely high-end clients.

The decision to downgrade Erzinger’s charges was immediately seen by many as a unfairly supporting the financial elite, causing a firestorm of commentary across the media, online and off. [See our prior coverage of the story here and here]

Now there is another angle to Erzinger’s defense that we wanted to bring up.

Randy Wyrick, a reporter for the Vail Daily, shares the argument that hinges on Erzinger’s sleep apnea:

John Koziol of Koziol Forensic investigated the accident, according to court documents.

Erzinger had purchased the car about a month before the accident. Koziol found in his investigation that it was emitting new car fumes, court documents said. It might have been a contributing factor, documents said.

‘Harmful and noxious gases emitted from the upholstery can infiltrate the driver’s compartment and potentially alter the driver,’ Koziol wrote.

It is important to note that the defense has been transparent about the fact that there is no scientific data to support this, as Wyrick notes in his column:

While the new car fumes could have been a contributing factor, ‘there’s no scientific basis for that,’ [Defense Attorney Richard] Tegtmeier said.

‘Once we found out that he suffers from sleep apnea, we were confident that was the cause,’ Tegtmeier said.

Just to clarify, the defense attorney is not trying to prove that the “new car smell” caused the accident directly, rather establish that Erzinger was unconscious at the time of the collision, and the smell contributed to that.

Ethan Axlerod brings us a little more detail in his piece about the case on The Huffington Post:

Tegtmeier told the Summit Daily News that evidence in support of the fact that Erzinger was asleep at the time of the accident makes the felony charge inappropriate, and accused Milo’s attorney of ‘press[ing] them [the District Attorney’s Office] to file an unjustified felony charge.’

Milo’s attorney responded in the Vail Daily by arguing that, even if Erzinger fell asleep, he still drove away from the scene when he awoke.

I have a feeling that this is not the end of the news coming from this case. If anything else interesting surfaces we’ll report it here.

Image by David Villareal Fernandez, used under its Creative Commons license

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