Surviving Boat Passenger Testifies in Blizzard Trial

Concord — March 12, 2010 — Prosecutors rested their negligent homicide case against Erica Blizzard yesterday with contradicting testimony about her alcohol consumption before she crashed her boat on Lake Winnipesaukee in 2008.

Blizzard’s best friend and surviving passenger, Nicole Shinopulos, told jurors Blizzard had only 3½ drinks over about four hours the night of the crash. But a state toxicology expert said Blizzard had to have consumed twice that to register a 0.15 percent blood-alcohol level two hours later at the hospital, a level that remained over the limit until 9:30 in the morning.

Colleen Scarneo of the state toxicology lab said it’s quite possible Blizzard’s blood-alcohol level was as high as 0.19 percent, more than twice the legal limit, when she hit the rocks off Diamond Island, injuring herself and Shinopulos and killing another friend, Stephanie Beaudoin.

“I felt there was a big disparity between what was stated to have been consumed (in alcoholic drinks) that evening and what our laboratory results showed,” Scarneo testified.

Blizzard, 36, of Laconia, is on trial in Belknap County Superior Court on two counts of negligent homicide for Beaudoin’s death. Alcohol has been a central part of the prosecution’s case because one of those counts alleges Blizzard was intoxicated while piloting her boat. Blizzard is also charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated for the facial fractures Shinopulos suffered in the June 15, 2008, crash.

Defense attorney James Moir of Concord is expected to call Blizzard and possibly three other witnesses beginning today. The jury of five women and eight men is scheduled to begin deliberations Monday after hearing closing arguments.

Shinopulos, who said she still “trusts my life in a boat” with Blizzard, spent about an hour on the witness stand yesterday recalling the hours before the crash.

Beaudoin and Blizzard met Shinopulos on Sleepers Island, where Shinopulos’s family has a home, about 7 p.m. June 14, 2008. Their plan was to have dinner at a Wolfeboro restaurant and then pull their annual prank on Blizzard’s father on their return to Sleepers Island. Blizzard had made “Blizzard for governor” signs to put on her father’s lawn so he would see them the next morning on Fathers Day.

Shinopulos said she drank a beer on the way to the restaurant while Blizzard and Beaudoin split a vodka mixed drink. After they got to the restaurant about 8 p.m., Blizzard and Beaudoin had three more mixed drinks as well as steamers and lobster salads, she said. Shinopulos said she had two mixed drinks and a beer with her steamers and a lobster roll. The women left the restaurant about midnight or 12:30 a.m., walked 20 minutes to get to Blizzard’s boat and headed for Blizzard’s father’s place on Governors Island, Shinopulos said.

No one drank more alcohol, she said. And she remembers Blizzard and Beaudoin each had a water on the way back, she said. But she told jurors she does not recall much else before or just after the crash.

She said she remembered putting the signs up on Paul Blizzard’s yard but doesn’t recall what time it was, how fast the boat was traveling, or much about the low visibility or rainy weather they encountered. Being unable to recall details “drives me crazy,” Shinopulos said. “I go to bed every night wanting to remember. And part of me thinks not remembering helps me cope.”

But she is certain, she said, that she did not feel intoxicated and that Blizzard did not appear intoxicated. She was so certain, she said, that she was shocked and in disbelief when she learned that her blood-alcohol level was 0.09 or 0.10 percent two hours after the crash and that Blizzard’s was 0.15 percent. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.

“I don’t know how it’s possible,” she testified. “I wouldn’t think three drinks would put your blood-alcohol level that high, especially in that amount of time.”

Three drinks wouldn’t, said Scarneo, whose testimony followed Shinopulos’s.

Had Blizzard consumed only the 3½ drinks she and Shinopulos claim, Scarneo said, her blood-alcohol level would have been well under the legal limit when she left the restaurant and zero when her blood was drawn at the hospital two hours after the crash. Instead, that first blood sample showed a 0.15 percent level and another done an hour later registered 0.13 percent, she said. At 7 a.m., Blizzard’s blood-alcohol level was 0.11 percent, and it didn’t drop to below the legal limit until about 9:30 a.m., Scarneo said.

During a lengthy cross-examination, Moir challenged Scarneo on several points, including how she worked backward to put Blizzard’s alcohol level at the time of the crash at 0.19 percent and the rigor of her online coursework for her master’s degree.

He grilled Scarneo on her decision to analyze Blizzard’s blood-alcohol levels based on her having five drinks, the tally provided by investigators, instead of 3½, the number provided by Blizzard and Shinopulos. But Prosecutor Carley McWhirk of the Belknap County Attorney’s Office said Blizzard’s blood-alcohol results are facts, not guesses. Scarneo agreed.

“I feel that’s an overwhelming amount of alcohol to be in your system when you are operating a motorboat,” Scarneo said. “(That level) would affect your cognition and motor skill function. Judgment would be impaired, and the ability to process information would be delayed.”

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