Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Local News

January 1, 2013

Drunken driver appeal gets short shrift

Judges uphold lengthy sentence

Jason Castillo conceded his driving privileges had been suspended for life, and he admitted he was drunk.

He was, however, hoping the Indiana Court of Appeals would buy his argument that prosecutors couldn’t prove he’d been driving.

It didn’t work.

Monday, three appeals court judges threw out the Kokomo resident’s appeal of a seven-year prison term in the case.

According to court records, Castillo was driving south on U.S. 31 through a construction zone in November 2011. The right lane was blocked by an asphalt machine.

A state worker told police he saw the light at Boulevard turn green, when to his surprise, the vehicle in the left-hand lane didn’t move.

A few seconds later, the worker said a man got out of the vehicle, talking on a cellphone, and proceeded to walk across the northbound lanes to the Bob Evans restaurant.

About the same time, the man later identified as Castillo was walking toward Bob Evans, Indiana State Police Trooper T.J. Zeiser was approaching the same intersection, and noticed traffic backed up and going around Castillo’s vehicle.

When the state workers pointed Zeiser toward Castillo, who was talking on a cellphone outside the restaurant, Zeiser went to investigate.

According to Zeiser’s testimony, Castillo was wobbly and smelled of alcohol.

Asked why he left the car sitting in traffic, Castillo responded the car had broken down, Zeiser said.

Zeiser also testified Castillo admitted to drinking that day but indicated he hadn’t had anything to drink since the car broke down.

Police found an open beer in the center console of Castillo’s car, along with an empty 32-ounce beer bottle.

Castillo’s blood alcohol content was 0.15, and due to prior convictions he’d already lost his driving privileges for life.

A Howard Superior Court 4 jury deliberated 33 minutes before returning a guilty verdict.

In his appeal, Castillo sought to have his conviction thrown out for insufficient evidence.

As his proof, he submitted that the state worker who identified him as the driver at trial admitted to not being “100 percent sure” that Castillo was the person he saw emerge from the car, cellphone in hand.

Writing for the appeals court majority, Court of Appeal Senior Judge John T. Sharpnack bluntly summarized evidence to the contrary.

“When Sergeant Zeiser asked Castillo why he left his vehicle in the middle of the roadway, Castillo said that the vehicle had broken down. This is ample evidence showing that Castillo operated a vehicle,” Sharpnack wrote.

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com.

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