KENAI, Alaska (AP) — A man was acquitted Tuesday of charges he caused a fatal crash by taking his eyes off the road while watching a movie on a DVD player mounted on his truck dashboard.
Jurors acquitted Erwin Petterson Jr., 29, of two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of manslaughter. No law in Alaska prohibits operating a DVD player in view of a driver.
Petterson had been charged in the deaths of Robert Weiser, 60, and Donna Weiser, 56, when his truck collided with their vehicle on a highway in southern Alaska on October 12, 2002.
“I think this case was really important because it brought out the issue for public discussion,” said the prosecutor, June Stein, after the acquittal. “It’s probably an issue the Legislature should address.”
Neither Petterson nor his lawyer could immediately be reached for comment after the acquittal. Lindsey Petterson said her brother was taking a long drive in his truck.
“He hasn’t been able to drive in over two years,” she said. “He just wanted to be alone for a while. He’s very happy he can get on with his life again.”
Stein argued that Petterson and his passenger Jonathan Douglas were watching a DVD movie when Petterson’s pickup truck crossed the center line, hitting the Weisers’ sport utility vehicle head-on.
Petterson testified he was not watching a movie and that his truck strayed into oncoming traffic when he reached for a soda.
The Weisers died at the scene.
Marty Zoda, Douglas’ former wife, testified that her ex-husband told her the DVD was running when the accident happened, a claim Douglas denied.
If installed as recommended, DVD players will not work in an automobile unless the emergency brake is on or the vehicle is in park.
Prosecutors said Petterson overrode those safety measures when he installed an entertainment system including a DVD player, speakers and a Sony PlayStation 2 in his pickup truck.
David Weiser, a son of the dead couple, said the family was not surprised by the verdict because skid marks at the scene and Petterson’s driving record were not allowed as evidence.
“I’m very disappointed in how the justice system has to prove a case against someone who took two lives,” said David Weiser.