A jury trial is underway in Bethel in the manslaughter case against Philip Simeon Jr. The 27-year-old Aniak resident is facing charges for allegedly driving his snow machine while intoxicated and hitting a group of people. Officials say Simeon was driving across a ditch with open water when the machine went airborne and fatally struck 15-year-old Dakota Nicholi. Another boy was injured.
A large part of the case centers on the safety of Simeon’s 2003 Arctic Cat Firecat snowmachine.
Last spring, an Anchorage snow machine expert, Bradley Helwig, was flown to Aniak to conduct an inspection of the machine. Friday afternoon, the courtroom watched the video of inspection in which Helwig demonstrated how the throttle could become stuck.
The inspection showed that a throttle cable could can become stuck on an oil line. A kill switch was intact. But the wires to enable a safety feature known as a throttle override system were cut. That safety feature would normally shut down the machine if the throttle level was released but the engine continued run at high rpm’s.
Attorneys called Helwig as a witness in Bethel court Friday, where he said repeatedly that the snowmachine was quote, “100 percent unsafe to ride.”
Simeon told investigating troopers that he had had problems with a struck throttle in the past and had done repairs himself.
The defense argued that there was not proof Simeon was intoxicated at the time he was riding and the fact that he was riding a machine with mechanical issues did not amount to manslaughter. A datamaster report showed Simeon’s blood alcohol level at .101% about three hours after riding. The prosecution said Simeon was being reckless given the machine’s history and that he rode the machine under the influence of alcohol.
The court reconvenes Monday at 1:00 p.m. in Bethel.