SALT LAKE CITY — Police say a Salt Lake man with a history of impaired driving recently drove over a parkway, took out a tree and then tried to drive away.
But the man's actions did not go unnoticed. A driver who was behind him witnessed what happened, followed the driver, then told him to go back to the scene of the crash.
That witness was Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
Gill was later subpoenaed to testify at the man's preliminary hearing. The hearing was continued, however, because the suspect, Joel Duffin Carlson, picked up additional DUI arrests.
Gill found himself in the odd position of being both a key witness in one case, and the chief prosecutor in two others.
This week, a global resolution was reached for all three cases and Carlson, 38, was sentenced to up to five years in the Utah State Prison.
The unusual series of events began on March 29. Gill was on his way to work about 8 a.m. and driving near 1700 South and 1700 East when the car in front of him went across the oncoming lanes of traffic, over a driveway, through a park strip, took out a tree and then nearly hit other vehicles parked along the side of the road. A Salt Lake police report noted that two trees were hit.
"At that point, I’m not certain whether he has had a health issue, and is he safe to drive?” Gill said. "It was almost an autonomic kind of response because one, I was just generally concerned that I thought this guy might be having a heart attack or a stroke or something. So I was just trying to get to him as a matter of safety."
Gill, who spotted what he believed was a child in the passenger seat, followed the car and began hitting his horn to get the driver's attention. Gill finally caught up with the man and pulled up next to him.
"Hey, are you OK? Because I’m a little concerned. I just saw you take off through a tree and it looks like you have a kid,” Gill told Carlson.
He said Carlson claimed he was fine and that he didn't need any help.
"He said, 'No, I just fell asleep.’ But there’s something else going on here, something more,” Gill noted. "I can tell his speech is a little slurred and his mannerisms are a little bit different.
"I could see the way he was driving. He is lucky he didn’t hit any oncoming traffic. He’s lucky he didn’t hit any of the parked cars,” he continued.
He then told the man, "I want you to go back and tell the guy whose tree you just ran over what happened."
As police noted in a report: "Sim Gill followed the suspect, confronted him and made him return to the scene."
As Gill followed the man back to the scene of the crash, he called 911. Once police arrived, Gill said Carlson got out of his car and began pulling items out of the trunk of his car and appeared to be putting something in his pocket.
"Gee, what are you going to do now, Sim?” was the thought going through Gill's head. "I’m getting nervous now because I don’t know who this guy is, what he’s going to pull out."
To buy some time, Gill told Carlson to go knock on the resident's door and tell him what had happened. In the meantime, Gill went to the passenger side of the car and instead of finding a child, he discovered an adult woman slouched down in the seat.
"They look like they’re just high. They’re just intoxicated,” he said.
Gill said as he was trying to keep an eye on both Carlson and the woman, Carlson — rather than walking up to the residence — "grabs the tree he knocked out, pulls it, and then starts walking. So I start walking after him because he’s taking off."
Carlson continued walking toward a nearby gas station where Salt Lake police later determined using store surveillance video that he was holding syringes and other drug paraphernalia in his hand and tried to get rid of them by putting them in a trash can.
Police caught up with Carlson and arrested him. When they brought him back to the scene of the accident, Gill, who had not identified himself, said Carlson looked at him and said, "I know who you are," as if he just realized who had been following him.
After Carlson was released from jail later that same day, he got into another DUI-related crash at 9 p.m. that night — about 13 hours after his first incident, in almost the same area, 1530 S. 1300 East, according to a police affidavit.10 comments on this story
While Carlson was free and awaiting his court proceedings, he was involved in a hit-and-run crash on Sept. 10 near 945 E. 2100 South. Drugs and alcohol were factors, according to court records. No one was seriously injured. Carlson was then arrested for investigation of DUI on Sept. 15 at 51 N. 200 West.
According to state court records, Carlson has been convicted of DUI six times.
Gill said the whole incident was a unique experience as he found himself on a different side of the criminal process.
"It was interesting. I filled out my witness statement, talked with law enforcement, shared all my information with them," he said. "I don’t think I did anything different than anyone else would have done."