A Somers man charged with murder claims not to remember the wrong-way drunken crash on Interstate 287 two years ago that killed another driver and a teenage passenger.
Jaime Paucar, 52, testified Thursday that he "felt fine" the evening of Jan. 30, 2020, when he drove away from a White Plains restaurant despite at least 4½ mojitos over nearly five hours.
Paucar recalled getting to the highway, heading to Port Chester. But his memory is blank, he insisted, about the series of events that left him going the wrong way and smashing into a BMW driven by Jordan Wachtell of Ardsley.
Wachtell was driving his son Preston and two friends to a basketball league game the boys were playing in Harrison. Wachtell was killed instantly and the 17-year-old sitting behind him, Eric Goldberg, died on the way to the hospital.
Paucar took the stand as the only defense witness at his nonjury trial before Westchester Judge George Fufidio. He speaks and understands English well and did not need an interpreter throughout the trial. But he testified in Spanish through an interpreter, saying he felt more comfortable that way.
The second-degree murder charge, accusing him of acting so recklessly that he showed a depraved indifference to human life, is rare in DWI cases.
But prosecutors Christine O'Connor and Jonathan Strongin laid out a case showing a series of actions over three miles on the highway and smaller roads thatthey argue showed Paucar failing to do anything to avoid the fatal crash.
His lawyer, Angelo MacDonald, counters that Paucar's evasive action at various stages of the route should preclude a murder conviction. Paucar recalled none of those efforts.
He is also charged with several other felonies, including aggravated vehicular homicide.
The final prosecution witness was a toxicologist who said Paucar's blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was above 0.18%, the threshold for aggravated driving while intoxicated That was based on blood drawn two hours later showing BACs of 0.19% and 0.22%.
Prosecutors introduced evidence of receipts from Haiku Asian Bistro on Mamaroneck Avenue suggesting Paucar had been there for more than five hours. Two mojitos were ordered with lunch and in the evening there were orders for three mojitos, margaritas, Haiku Citrus, white wine and Tito's vodka.
But Paucar said he and his son left after lunch to go to Eastchester. And when his son dropped him off later to get his car, he decided to go back into the restaurant. Only the mojitos were his that evening, he insisted. The other drinks were for an acquaintance he knew who showed up at the bar with a woman.
Paucar said he was heading to a poker game in Port Chester. The prosecution had theorized he was on his way home to Amawalk, which would have required him to exit the highway onto Interstate 684.
He said the last thing he remembers is the feeling that another driver was following him eastbound on I-287. He switched lanes a few times to try to shake him off.
Testimony has shown that Paucar struck an SUV and bounced off a tractor-trailer near Exit 10 and pulled off the highway at Exit 11 in Rye. He parked briefly in the Kohl's shopping center, according to a motorist who did follow him after the initial crash.
But rather than call a cab, or his son in Harrison or even his poker friends, Paucar drove off again about 10 minutes later.
If he was going home at that point, he missed the entrance to westbound I-287.
Paucar is believed to have driven through Rye and Harrison on Purchase Street before reaching Westchester Avenue. He should have made a right there to access westbound I-287. Instead, he made a left and went the wrong way up the Exit 10 ramp and headed west on eastbound I-287.
Two drivers testified that he came to a brief stop facing them as they exited the highway and swerved to get out of their way before continuing.
On the highway, Paucar sideswiped two cars, narrowly missed others before veering into the BMW in the center lane after Wachtell tried to get out of the way.
He told MacDonald he didn't remember any of that. And he didn't remember seeing the oncoming BMW or hearing or feeling the crash.
Paucar does remember someone asking him if he could get out of his car and that he couldn't on his own because he was in a lot pain. But he couldn't remember further details even when a state trooper's body camera video was played at the trial.
MacDonald asked his thoughts on the testimony of Preston Wachtell and Goldberg's mother, but O'Connor objected and Fufidio would not allow Paucar to answer.
"How do you feel about the results of this accident?" MacDonald followed up.
"I don't feel good," Paucar answered, without expanding.
Paucar said he had asked the bartender to strengthen his three mojitos in the evening. And he acknowledged to O'Connor on cross examination that both the mojitos at lunch were for him, although he didn't finish the second one.
Following closing arguments Friday Fufidio will give his verdict on Feb. 7.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Jaime Paucar claims no memory of wrong-way I-287 crash that killed two