Mansoor Karimi has a history of speeding.
He’s been cited for excessive speed about half a dozen times in the past decade, according to court records. And during opening arguments Monday in his vehicular homicide trial, a state prosecutor said Karimi was going 61 mph in a 25 mph zone when he blew through a four-way stop sign in 2016 and collided with a Chevrolet Cobalt, killing both its occupants.
But Karimi’s attorney, Tom Clark, said the crash that claimed the lives of Ian Sweatt, 33, and Christopher Bryant, 30, was “nothing less than a horrific accident” and his client is not to blame for the deaths.
“Folks, this was an automobile accident,” Clark said Monday during opening arguments, “and every automobile accident does not have to result in a criminal case.”
Karimi was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide due to reckless driving and a count of failure to render aid at the scene of the accident after police say he ran a stop sign at the intersection of Camino Carlos Rey and Plaza Verde on Dec. 16, 2016, and T-boned Bryant’s sedan.
Clark contended officials rushed to judgement when they charged Karimi before reviewing the results of toxicology tests, which showed the two men who died in the crash were impaired and that the driver, Bryant, may have been on his cellphone at the time.
Karimi was “dead sober” when the crash occurred, Clark said Monday, but toxicology reports showed Bryant had a blood alcohol content of 0.07 — just under the 0.08 threshold for legal intoxication in New Mexico. Both victims tested positive for marijuana use.
During his opening statement in District Court, Deputy District Attorney Kent Wahlquist downplayed the importance of the toxicology report, saying the fact that the men tested positive for THC metabolites only proved “that at some time previously they had smoked marijuana.”
Bryant’s phone was shown to be using data at the time of the crash, Wahlquist said, but it also appeared to be using data after he was pronounced dead.
Clark told jurors the case would be better resolved in civil court, adding that the families of the deceased have filed a lawsuit against the General Motors, claiming the Colbalt didn’t meet safety standards.
“The car they were driving was defective and dangerous and an impact of any kind was unsurvivable,” Clark said.
After opening arguments, two men who had stopped to help after seeing the crash took the stand as state witnesses.
Diego Gabaldon, 25, told jurors he had just passed the intersection when he saw a black blur — Karimi was driving a black BMW 335i — fly past him heading in the opposite direction.
Gabaldon estimated the vehicle was going “at least 70” when it passed him, adding a thought started to form in his mind that such speed was dangerous.
But before he could finish the thought, Gabaldon said, he heard a loud boom and looked into his rear-view mirror. He saw the two vehicles collide and dust and smoke fill the air.
Gabaldon said he turned around and drove back to the crash scene, where Karimi appeared to be dry heaving but uninjured.
He choked up when he described approaching Bryant’s car and seeing the two fatally injured men.
Bryant was obviously dead, he said, and his head was lolling at an angle that seemed to indicate his neck was broken.
Another man testified Karimi was talking on his cellphone when he approached him after the wreck and waved away his offer of assistance, directing him toward the Colbalt where a crowd of people was starting to form.
Family members of Bryant and Sweatt said outside the courtroom that the two young men where close friends. Neither was married or had children. Bryant’s mother said her son considered Sweatt and his other friends to be family.
Karimi’s trial is set to last through Friday. If convicted on all charges, he faces 13½ years in prison.