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Jonathan Ryser takes the stand in his vehicular homicide trial, jury starts deliberating

He's accused of hitting Kerry Wiltzius with a tow truck in June 2020.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The jury now has the case in Jonathan Ryser's vehicular homicide trial. Jurors heard from two final defense witnesses Tuesday morning, including Ryser himself, before starting deliberations late in the afternoon.

Ryser testified about the morning in June 2020 when he hit Kerry Wiltzius, who was cycling on State Route 206. Ryser had been called in early that morning on a tow truck job and admitted he took a pill in the hours before the fatal collision.

"Just a pick-me-up," he said. "Anticipating Fridays for me were really, really busy, so just an energy pill type thing."

That pick-me-up was likely meth, according to prosecutors, who say Ryser had the drug in his system. 

Ryser testified he bought the pills from another driver, assuming they were an illegal drug.

He also had a "presumptive positive" test for marijuana; Ryser admitted he smoked it the night before the crash.

Ryser testified he saw Wiltzius before the crash. Prosecutor Joseph Edwards pulled up a photo of a bright orange shirt she was wearing at the time.

Ryser said he was trying to avoid crossing the center line into oncoming traffic while passing her on the narrow road.

"Pretty much at the last minute and kind of, kind of cut in front of me somewhat and we struck," he explained. "It happened pretty quick."

Edwards told jurors Ryser was not only impaired, but acted recklessly.

"Is it the decision of a rational, sober person that with oncoming traffic coming at some distance and this being a solid yellow lane that I'm going to pass?" Edwards asked during his closing argument. "We all know how this worked out. It resulted in Ms. Wiltzius' death."

Ryser's defense attorney, Steve Graham, said under Washington law, just taking meth and driving isn't enough for a conviction. Graham argued even troopers on scene did not believe he was impaired and that Ryser passed field sobriety tests. 

"They have to prove it has impaired a person's driving, it impaired the person's ability to drive a motor vehicle," Graham said. "That's the legal threshold you have to make."

He asked jurors to put aside any preconceptions about methamphetamine as a "trashy" drug and look at the law and evidence. 

The jury got the case around 4 p.m. Tuesday and did not reach a verdict before the end of the day. Deliberations are expected to resume Wednesday.

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