“Yes,” Wellington trust-funder John Goodman replied to his lawyer Roy Black‘s question minutes ago, as he unexpectedly took the stand in his own defense.
And Goodman looked nervous, stuttering his way through his testimony as he is being tried in a West Palm Beach court for DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident in connection with the February 2010 death of 23-year-old Scott Wilson.
Goodman, the founder of International Polo Club Palm Beach in Welly, is accused of being drunk as his $250,000-black convertible crashed into Wilson’s Hyundai, sending it into a canal. Wilson drowned on his seat while Goodman walked away.
And as soon as Goodman sat on the witness chair today, prosecutor Ellen Roberts didn’t give any attorney much leeway in trying to portray Goodman as just another working man. Later, in cross examination, she would find out Goodman doesn’t remember much about what happened on the fateful night.
She objected to most questions from defense attorney Roy Black pertaining to Goodman’s youth, failure to graduate from college for a job in the family’s air conditioning business, and his introduction to the polo world — and Judge Jeffrey Colbath agreed with her that they were irrelevant.
Calling him “John,” Black then had Goodman recount the hours leading the crash. Goodman told how he had one vodka-tonic at a fundraiser at the White House Tavern, an equestrian hangout in Wellington.
“I had one drink,” Goodman said.
Goodman’s wearing a grey two-piece suit and light grey tie, and he talks in a labored, slow voice similar to his voice on the 911 tape as he reported the crash an hour after it occurred.
At times, his explanations are confusing. He occasionally stutters and is hard to follow — like someone who is drunk would sound. He constantly fidgets as if he doesn’t know how he should act.
Goodman then told the six-person jury about his second stop that night, at the Players’ Club. He acknowledged having two more drinks at the Wellington restaurant, including two shots of tequila.
In his opening statement last week, Goodman’s high-profile defense lawyer explained the high amount of alcohol in Goodman’s blood to have been caused by Goodman’s drinking at a friend’s house after the crash. And Black also explained the crash wasn’t caused by Goodman, but by sudden acceleration in the malfunctioning Bentley.
Black: “When you left the Players Club, were you intoxicated, impaired or drunk?”
Goodman: “Absolutely not!”
Where was he headed?
To a local Wendy’s, to get a frosty, Goodman said.
Then Goodman reminisced on his approach of the fateful stop sign, which he allegedly blew at 63 mph.
“I apllied the brakes, but the car wasn’t working like it usually did,” Goodman said. He added that trying to brake was the last thing he remembers of the accident.
After the accident, Goodman said he didn’t know where he was — even as he sat in the car.
Once he exited the wrecked Bentley, Goodman said he saw debris on the ground but said he still didn’t realize what happened.
“My back was horrible, I had a head injury, I was in pain,” he said when asked if he was hurt. “I looked around and couldn’t see anything. Absolutely, I was sure there was no other car there.”
Goodman walked south away from the scene although he said he didn’t know where he was headed.
“I needed a phone, mine wasn’t working,” Goodman said.
Goodman constantly emphasized the darkness surrounding him that night.
Black then had Goodman describe a barn in which he allegedly went in to look for a phone.
It’s clear that the barn, which includes an apartment, belongs to Kris Kampsen, a polo-playing friend of Goodman’s. Kampsen was partying with Goodman hours before the crash and testified. Kampsen said he only found out Goodman had been at his barn when Goodman told him several days later.
“I looked for a phone everywhere,” Goodman said. “I was in excruciating pain. I sat on the couch and saw liquor on the counter. I grabbed the bottle and drank it to alleviate the pain.”
Goodman doesn’t remember how long he was there and how much he drank. He didn’t say what kind of liquor it was, and Black doesn’t ask.
Goodman returned to the stand this afternoon, and Black dissected the 911 call that Goodman placed nearly an hour after the accident.
Goodman explained why he kept apologizing to the 911 operator by saying he was apologizing to Lisa Pembleton, the woman whose trailer he ended up after his visit to the barn and also testified that she convinced Goodman to call 911.
Goodman also claimed that his constant questions to the 911 operator about whether “everybody’s ok” came as he started to realize “something serious” had happened.
“I was just trying to know what happened,” Goodman said.
Goodman says he only found out someone had died in the crash while he was being treated at the hospital.
On cross examination by prosecutor Roberts, Goodman said he didn’t feel the impact of the crash, and doesn’t remember blowing through the stop sign.
“Were you going 63 mph,” Roberts asked.
“I don’t think I was going that fast,” he said. “I can’t remember the numbers . . . I don’t know what happened. I have no idea.”
Roberts also asked if, after 20 years of Wellington living, Goodman was aware of the existence of the canal in which Wilson’s car filled up with water.
Roberts also grilled Goodman about Kampsen’s apartment and turning on the television.
“What made you think that the alcohol you drank would make the pain go away,” Roberts asked.
“That’s just what I did,” Goodman said.
Roberts: “You drank 11 to 14 shots in 20 minutes? Did you use a glass?”
“I didn’t use a glass,” he responds.
Roberts: “What were you drinking?”
Goodman: “I don’t know.”
Roberts also asked why he stayed at Kampsen’s place to drink instead of returning to his wrecked car.
Goodman: “I didn’t know what I hit.”
Roberts: “Are you not remembering all this because you have amnesia from the concussion?”
Goodman: “I don’t know why I’m not remembering that.”