Opposing lawyers Tuesday served up emotional, graphic and clashing versions of the 2010 fight in traffic that left one man dead near Williams-Brice Stadium just after a University of South Carolina football game.
Curtis Simms, 27, originally from Alabama but now a Columbia resident, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter and breach of the peace in the death of Allen Martin Gasque, 20, of Marion, in highly congested traffic leaving the game.
Simms got out of a pickup to confront Gasque, who had called out to him from another vehicle driven by a friend, according to evidence. Gasque then fell out of his vehicle, or was pulled by Simms, and run over by his friend’s truck as he lay on Shop Road.
In the first day of testimony in the trial at the Richland County Courthouse, attorneys and witnesses described Gasque’s sudden death, which was said to have happened in a matter of seconds.
“I saw the car roll forward, it kind of caught him toward the upper part of his leg, rolled over his abdomen, his chest and – uh – his head,” said an eyewitness, James Martin, 30, who was the fourth prosecution witness to testify as the trial wound up its first day of testimony.
“Was he moving?” asked assistant 5th Circuit solicitor Luck Campbell.
“He was not,” Martin testified.
Earlier, in opening statements, a prosecutor and a defense attorney depicted Gasque’s death in sharply different ways to the jury of seven women and five men.
Simms, “six inches taller and who outweighed Gasque by 100 pounds ... started a chain of events that ultimately led to” Gasque’s death, said assistant 5th Circuit solicitor Meghan Walker.
Walker tried to assert that the Oct. 9, 2010, USC football game against the University of Alabama with its attendant festivities and massive traffic jams were the innocent backdrop for Gasque’s death.
“The Gamecocks won the game that day. We had just beaten the No. 1 team in the country, and Adam (Paxton, the pickup truck driver who was Gasque’s friend) and Martin were ecstatic,” Walker said. “They (Paxton and Gasque) were shouting out, celebrating the Gamecock victory.”
After Gasque was killed, Simms ran from the scene, “taking off his Alabama hat and his Alabama polo shirt,” Walker said.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Johnny Gasser blamed Gasque’s death squarely on the careless driving of Paxton and noted that Gasque had a blood-alcohol level that was three times what can be considered drunk driving.
“On any given weekend, in any given city or town in America, fistfights occur between young men who’ve been drinking, particularly at sporting events. When fistfights occur, nobody expects that somebody’s going to die,” Gasser said.
Paxton – the driver of the pickup in which Gasque was riding – is really responsible for Gasque’s death, Gasser said. He disregarded other pedestrians in the area and speeded up his pickup when Gasque fell out of it, he said.
Paxton and Gasque brought the tragedy on themselves, Gasser said.
“You are going to hear about their repeated taunting that those two gentlemen were giving Alabama fans, the profanity, the cursing, what their state of mind was – was it a fighting state of mind on the part of Mr. Gasque?” Gasser said.
“You’re going to hear from one witness that prior to this, Mr. Gasque got out of his truck and urinated on the road, right in front of everybody,” Gasser said.
Gasser said he will call several former University of South Carolina football players – who were in the truck with Simms – as well as several Alabama fans who also were in the truck, to back up Simms’ story that he was not the aggressor.
“You’re going hear testimony that Martin Gasque was so drunk his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit,” Gasque said.
As for Simms running and removing his “dark red Alabama shirt,” Gasser said, the only reason he did that was to reveal a white T-shirt underneath so he’d be more visible in thick traffic as he searched for a police officer to call 911 before coming back to the scene and volunteering to a Columbia police officer that he had punched Gasque.
Four witnesses testified Tuesday, including one of the first Richland County sheriff’s deputies on the scene, Cassie Radford, who began to cry in front of the jury as she described arriving at Gasque’s mangled and apparently lifeless body.
“I’m a parent,” she told the jury, in a remark drew an objection from Gasser. Judge Diane Goodstein ordered the jury to disregard that remark because of its emotional nature.
In an indication of how hard-fought the trial will be, Gasser repeatedly told the jury that if the prosecution doesn’t call witnesses who can support Simms’ version of events, “We will.”
And at the day’s end, with the jury out of the room, there was a surprise.
Prosecutor Campbell caught Gasser and his fellow attorney Greg Harris off balance when she asked Judge Goodstein to have deputies take Simms into custody and take him to jail.
Simms, who according to his lawyers has a clean record, a full-time job in Columbia and had a fiancée sitting in court, is no flight risk and poses no danger to anyone, Gasser said. Simms has been on a personal recognizance bond – that is, putting up no money – since being charged in 2010.
Harris begged Goodstein to let Simms spend the night locked in his law office so the lawyers could work with him on trial preparation. But Goodstein said it was her policy to lock up people during trial with criminal charges like Simms’ unless they posted bond and had some sort of electronic monitoring.
As his fiancée wept, deputies ordered a visibly shaken Simms to take off his tie and belt and led him away to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.