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Va. man on trial in 2008 Zimbabwe vehicle accident

Monday - 7/29/2013, 5:50pm  ET

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) -- A U.S. government employee who struck and killed a man while driving in Zimbabwe in 2008 wasn't drunk and any driver in the same situation would have collided with the pedestrian, a defense attorney for the man said Monday.

Andrew Pastirik's lawyer made the argument during opening statements in his trial in federal court. Pastirik is not charged with killing the pedestrian. Instead, he's accused of causing more than $1,000 in damage to the government-owned Toyota Land Cruiser he was driving. If convicted, Pastirik could face up to 10 years in prison.

Prosecutor Pragna Soni told the judge hearing the case in place of a jury that the government's evidence would show Pastirik was drunk when he hit 34-year-old Zimbabwe national Alois Pedzisai Matyoramhinga in the capital of Harare.

"It was the kind of damage that cannot be undone," she said.

Pastirik's attorney, Joseph McCarthy, said his client had largely stopped drinking hours earlier and spent much of the night helping a friend who was a Marine safely get home. He said it was dark in the early morning hours of Oct. 18, 2008, when Pastirik hit the man, who was wearing dark clothing and had dark skin. And he said Pastirik swerved the best he could but an oncoming car prevented him from going farther.

McCarthy said when his client, who worked in the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, arrived home and saw the vomit on the front of his car he realized he had hit the man and that the accident was more serious than he thought.

Witnesses who testified Monday didn't agree on whether Pastirik was drunk on the night of the crash. Pastirik's former mother-in-law, who he called shortly after the accident, said he did not sound drunk on the phone. A man who saw Pastirik before he got on the road, meanwhile, said he had poured both of them two to three shots of vodka and pineapple juice at the Marine House where the Marines who guard the embassy in Zimbabwe are stationed.

He said he urged Pastirik not to drive, but that Pastirik was only "a little impaired," not drunk. Pastirik's lawyer said the drink sometime after 3 a.m. was his client's only one since around midnight and he had driven without difficulty earlier in the night.

A U.S. embassy security official who photographed the damage to Pastirik's car, however, said Pastirik slurred his words, dragged his feet and smelled so strongly of alcohol that she took a step back. The woman, Jonica Brooke Hogenson-Counts, described vomit on Pastirik's car as going up the hood and windshield and said he repeated the words "This is bad."

She said Pastirik told her he saw the man and swerved and that he felt an impact but thought he'd hit an animal or pothole or just brushed the pedestrian.

The trial is expected to last two days.

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Follow Jessica Gresko at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko


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