CLEARFIELD – The verdict is expected today in the trial for a Houtzdale woman who has been accused of throwing a beer bottle and seriously injuring another woman at a birthday party in August of 2012.
Sabrina C. Gardner, 23, of Houtzdale has been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. Clearfield County President Judge Fredric Ammerman is presiding over the trial.
District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. is prosecuting the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Gardner is being represented by defense attorney Ron Collins. Ammerman will charge the jury at 9 a.m. today.
During testimony yesterday, the victim, a 19-year-old Philipsburg woman, detailed the events that allegedly occurred Aug. 17-18, 2012. Around 8 p.m. she was going with her boyfriend to his sister’s birthday party.
The party, she said, was attended by people who were of the legal drinking age, as well as others who were underage. At some point during the party, her brother and his girlfriend engaged in a verbal argument.
According to the victim, she approached her brother, as she wanted to get his car keys. She didn’t want him to drink and drive. At the same time, she said Gardner approached the couple and yelled at her to “get the [expletive] away from them.”
The victim explained that Gardner was yelling about her brother’s girlfriend being her best friend. She told Gardner to allow her brother and his girlfriend to figure out their own problems, and she had his keys so he couldn’t drive.
After that she said she and Gardner agreed to walk away from the situation. However, she said Gardner yelled at her, “you [expletive]” and when she turned around a beer bottle smashed into her face. She then grabbed her face, which was bleeding, and ran into the trailer.
Once inside she said numerous people followed her into the bathroom, where they cleaned pieces of shattered glass off of her. She was bleeding from her left eyeball and mouth and given towels to try to stop the bleeding.
The victim was transported to the Altoona Hospital, where she had her eye examined and her lip stitched. She had two front teeth missing, another was chipped and others were loose. At Altoona, she said they couldn’t do any more for her and she was flown to Pittsburgh.
In Pittsburgh, she had emergency surgery on her left eye. When she woke up, there was a patch over her eye. She couldn’t see out of it, and it was painful. She was hospitalized in Pittsburgh for almost two days.
Upon her release, the victim had to continue to wear an eye patch for two or three months to prevent infection. She had to have someone apply eye drops. The victim was also prescribed eye glasses due to her vision problems as a result of the incident.
Prior to the incident, she said she could see fine and only needed glasses for reading. Those glasses, she said, weren’t prescribed to her. Now she said she must wear sunglasses to drive at night due to the brightness of headlights and anytime she’s exposed to sunlight.
So far as injuries to her mouth, the victim said she experienced pain and braces were put on to keep her teeth from shifting. She also had permanent implants put in to replace her two, missing front teeth.
April Spencer, 26, of Houtzdale, offered similar testimony of the alleged incident as the victim. On Aug. 18, she arrived at the birthday party around midnight. When the victim’s brother and his girlfriend started arguing, she approached them with the victim.
According to her, the victim wanted to get her brother’s car keys. At the same time, she said Gardner approached yelling, “That’s my best friend [the victim’s brother’s girlfriend].” After the victim and Gardner exchanged words, she said they agreed to walk away.
At that point, Spencer said that Gardner yelled at the victim, and both she and the victim turned around. Spencer said she observed Gardner throw something like a “baseball pitch,” and it hit the victim in the face. Afterward, she heard something like “keys hitting,” which was glass shattering from the beer bottle.
Dr. John F. Mackin, the victim’s dentist, testified that on Aug. 27, 2012, she visited his office and he examined her injuries. The victim, Mackin said, had suffered oral trauma, including two, missing front teeth.
In addition, he said she had a chipped tooth and other mobile teeth. He took impressions of her mouth, so that they could put in temporary replacements with permanent implants being a long process.
The victim, Mackin said, had screws put in to hold her permanent implants in place to replace her missing teeth. Under cross-examination by Collins, Mackin said the victim’s prognosis was good, and he hadn’t observed any signs of abscess in the two years since the incident.
Dr. Doriann Lavery, the victim’s primary care practitioner, described the severe injuries she observed during a visit after Aug. 18, 2012. The victim, she said, had a ruptured left eye and an irregularly shaped pupil, which will remain that way.
According to her, the victim is permanently vision-impaired and still suffers from blurred vision. In similar cases, she said some people suffer from blindness but she believes the victim is beyond that stage.
Also, Lavery said she treated the victim for headaches. The victim, she said, was diagnosed with post-traumatic headaches, which would be usual for someone who was hit in the head with a beer bottle.
When asked by Shaw, Lavery confirmed there are dangers with blunt force trauma to the head, such as serious injuries and even death. The victim’s headaches, she said, may be permanent, noting the victim still suffers from them.
Under cross-examination, Collins asked about the victim’s history of wearing glasses. Lavery said the victim only needed glasses for reading purposes before the incident. When asked by Collins, Lavery said the victim sees her still on an “as-needed basis.”
When asked by Shaw during re-direct examination, the victim, Lavery confirmed, has problems with driving at night due to the brightness of oncoming headlights and also with being exposed to sunlight. This, Lavery said, cannot be corrected with glasses.
Trooper William Mostyn, criminal investigator at the Clearfield-based state police barracks, testified about his investigation. Upon conducting interviews with several witnesses from the party, he said his investigation led him to Gardner.
During an interview, he said Gardner claimed the victim’s brother and his girlfriend were fighting and she approached them to intervene. The victim, she said, also came to intervene with her brother being involved.
Initially, Mostyn said that Gardner denied throwing the beer bottle at the victim. Gardner, according to him, claimed that when the victim walked away, someone threw a beer bottle and hit her. But ultimately he said Gardner admitted to being mad and whipping the beer bottle at the victim.
In a written statement, Mostyn said that Gardner also admitted to throwing the beer bottle and hitting the victim in the face. Gardner believed she threw the beer bottle at the victim because of her drinking at the birthday party.
Gardner took the stand in her own defense yesterday. She went to the birthday party with the victim’s brother and his girlfriend who was her best friend. She said they arrived around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. Aug. 17, 2012.
Before they left for the party, she said the couple was arguing. While at the party, she said they starting arguing again, and she saw her best friend falling to the ground. When she ran over to see if she was OK, she said the victim’s brother told her to go away.
At that point, Gardner said the victim came over and they “had words.” Both of them, she said, agreed to walk away. Then, Gardner said she had “no idea what she was thinking” when she threw the beer bottle.
Under cross-examination, Shaw questioned Gardner about how much alcohol she had consumed at the birthday party. Gardner said she had two or three jello shots, one or two “red solo cups” of jungle juice, two bottles of Bud Light Platinum and seven or eight bottles of Twisted Tea.
When asked by Shaw, Gardner agreed that if someone was hit by a beer bottle that it would inflict pain. She also agreed that she knew throwing a beer bottle could hurt someone. When asked, Gardner admitted she had the beer bottle in her hand and she was drinking from it.
“So there was still beer in the bottle, you know that can cause even more serious bodily injury,” said Shaw. When asked about her mood at the time of the incident, Gardner claimed she wasn’t mad at the victim, adding she wasn’t sure why she threw the bottle.
“I wasn’t thinking,” said Gardner. When asked by Shaw, Gardner admitted she neither checked on the victim nor apologized afterward, noting “no one would let me in.” For that reason, Gardner said she left and ran to a family member’s residence nearby.
In his closing, Collins argued that Gardner wasn’t disputing she threw the beer bottle and that it hit the victim. The defense, he said, realizes Gardner is the only one responsible for the victim’s injuries.
However, he said it wasn’t Gardner’s intentions to hit the victim and injure her. He claimed Gardner threw the beer bottle “out of frustration” and it was a case of “bad luck” that it hit the victim and shattered in her face.
“It’s not like she was trying to be Nolan Ryan,” said Collins. “She’s not some MLB pitcher.” He added that if Gardner really wanted to inflict serious injury upon the victim, she would have wrestled her to the ground or smashed the beer bottle across her face.
Shaw countered, arguing that before Aug. 18, the victim had perfect vision and all of her teeth. He reminded jurors that the victim suffered permanent injuries that will affect her for the rest of her life.
According to him, the victim was the “responsible” and “mature” one. She wanted to keep her brother from driving drunk and get his keys. Gardner, he said, involved herself in the situation and could have walked away.
“But she couldn’t do that. She was mad and she was drunk,” said Shaw, telling jurors to use common sense. “. . . So what does she do? She whips a beer bottle [at the victim]. And, it was in the heat of passion when she was intoxicated. It was an intentional act folks.”
Shaw argued that the defense wanted jurors to believe it was just an act of simple assault. However, he said there was a big difference between someone getting punched in the eye and someone having a ruptured eye. He said there was a big difference between someone getting kicked in the shins and someone having two teeth knocked out.
“How hard do you have to throw a beer bottle to make it smash on someone’s face?” asked Shaw. “Why do you think major leaguers wear helmets? Getting hit in the head can cause serious injuries and death.
“If everyone walks away, we’re not here in this courtroom today. But Sabrina Gardner has to yell again and then kapow the victim gets smashed in the face with a beer bottle.”