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Jurors hear testimony in Fruitts case
Trial continues in case of Union County worker killed in February 2012
After allegedly striking a Union County Public Works employee with his vehicle, Harold Fruitts attempted to resuscitate the man using CPR, according to testimony heard in court Tuesday.
Testimony in the week-long trial also included information from the state medical examiner and first responders.
Harold “J.R.” Fruitts, 53, is on trial this week for the Feb. 28, 2012, death of John E. Rysdam III, who was struck by a vehicle while working on Palmer Junction Road near Elgin. Fruitts is charged with criminally negligent homicide, manslaughter and three counts of reckless endangerment. The reckless endangerment charges stem from the fact that three other county employees were nearby when Rysdam was struck.
Following the accident, Fruitts called 911. Recordings from the call placed at 1:38 p.m. were played in court.
“I just hit a man,” he says, adding that the victim was bleeding from his ears and nose.
Dianne Williams, a registered nurse who stopped to help, told jurors Fruitts was administering CPR when she arrived at the scene. She and other witnesses noted, however, that they never got a response from Rysdam.
State Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Gunson testified that Rysdam died instantly from blunt force trauma to the head and chest. He was struck on his left side and impacted the ground on his right side, she said. She said blood from his right ear was indicative of a skull fracture, which caused his heart to stop beating almost instantly.
At issue for the defense was a question of whether Rysdam was wearing a reflective safety vest. EMTs who responded could not recall whether the vest was worn on his exterior clothing, but Williams testified that the vest was worn under a coat.
Following the accident, Fruitts was brought into the Union County Sheriff’s Office for an interview, a recording of which was shown in court. In the interview, Fruitts told investigators he had been messing with the vehicle’s stereo system before the crash.
Fruitts was driving a 1996 Ford Bronco that belonged to his girlfriend at the time of the accident.
Union County Sheriff’s Office Det. Jason McKaig, then a deputy for the sheriff’s office, was the first law enforcement officer to the scene. McKaig testified that the day after the accident he executed a search warrant on the vehicle. Upon investigating the stereo, he observed it was an aftermarket stereo.
In a follow-up conversation with the defendant, McKaig said Fruitts told him the stereo system’s menus were not functioning correctly.
McKaig testified that the stereo was “quite loud” when he turned the ignition on while executing the search warrant, and that it appeared to be functioning normally.
The state contended that the stereo was located near the top of the dash where the driver would not need to look down, using a photo from another Bronco. The 1996 Bronco involved in the crash has been destroyed.
The defense team contended it was unfair to use the photo since it was not from the actual vehicle involved, but Judge Brian Dretke allowed it for the sole purpose of noting where the stereo system was.
In cross examination of McKaig, the defense noted that investigators ruled out the possibility of texting or calling while driving. Investigators also said Fruitts was not impaired.
District Attorney Tim Thompson and Deputy District Attorney Kelsie McDaniel are expected to wrap up the state’s case Wednesday afternoon. The defense, led by attorney J. Robert Moon of Baker City, will then present its case. The trial is expected to wrap up by the end of the week.