Pathologist testifies about Turlock road rage death

Says ruptured spleen was cause after man beaten

rahumada@modbee.comApril 18, 2013 

A forensic pathologist on Thursday testified that a 67-year-old man died from a ruptured spleen caused by blunt force trauma during a suspected Turlock road rage confrontation in which authorities said the man was severely beaten.

A prosecutor has argued that a witness spotted Ken Winter on the ground in the fetal position trying to protect himself while Michael Joseph Hoyt was hitting him. Hoyt is on trial, accused of second-degree murder in Winter's death.

Dr. Eugene Carpenter testified that Winter's injuries were consistent with someone who was punched excessively. He said someone in the fetal position trying to protect himself will generally leave some parts of the body unprotected, including the left side near the back where the spleen is located.

The confrontation occurred shortly before noon Feb. 1, 2010, at Linwood Avenue and Paulson Road. Hoyt has told authorities Winter didn't stop his pickup at the stop sign and almost crashed into his vehicle.

They got out of their vehicles and a fight ensued, authorities say. Later, both men got back in their vehicles; Winter drove away to his nearby sheet-metal shop, where he lost consciousness.

Winter was drunk when he died, with a blood alcohol level of 0.20 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent to drive.

Carpenter said Winter's high blood alcohol level did not change his opinion on what caused Winter's death. The pathologist also was aware that Winter had heart disease, hardened arteries and high blood pressure before the confrontation occurred.

Dr. Katherine Barton performed surgery on Winter on Feb. 1, when the injured man was taken to Emmanuel Medical Center in Turlock. She said medics performed lifesaving procedures to revive Winter, including chest compressions.

He was revived and taken to the surgery room, where doctors removed his spleen. Barton testified that Winter had a lot of internal bleeding in his abdomen, which was likely coming from the ruptured spleen.

They later determined that 20 percent of Winter's spleen had been damaged, and initially the bleeding stopped. Barton told the jury that Winter then started bleeding elsewhere, and he was being kept alive only with a ventilator and other medical equipment.

"He never really stabilized," Barton said on the witness stand. "He really never woke up after the surgery."

Winter's family asked doctors not to resuscitate him when his heart stopped a third time, and he died at 4:15 a.m. Feb. 2, 2010.

During cross-examination, Barton said that she is not an expert in CPR, rib fractures or how injuries are caused. The surgeon, however, said it's unlikely that chest compressions would've fractured Winter's ribs or damaged his spleen.

She said Winter's fractured ribs were toward the back and not near the breast bone, where chest compressions are performed.

Barton also testified that it's highly unlikely that chest compressions would have exacerbated an injury from a fall or a punch or move around one of the fractured bones.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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