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Defense says motorist handled alcohol well

But the OSP contends he did nothing to avoid the crash that led to aRuch's resident's death

Edwin Coen's alcoholism cost him his friends and a girlfriend six years ago.

He tried treatment. Yet he continued to drink, consuming between a dozen and 18 beers a day ' two dozen on the weekends.

The 15 beers he drank before driving home to Jacksonville the evening of Feb. 13, 2002, were his last.

His pickup truck collided with an oncoming car on Highway 238 that night, killing Ruch resident Burke McNulty Thompson, Coen's former Boy Scout troop leader.

— A Jackson County Circuit Court jury will decide Coen's fate today. The 30-year-old faces charges of second-degree manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol. If convicted, he will spend a minimum of six years and three months in prison.

Coen's defense attorneys Wednesday called witnesses to testify that Coen's extreme tolerance of alcohol allowed him to function normally at the time of the 8:30 p.m. crash. Coen's blood alcohol level was .25 percent ' more than three times Oregon's legal limit ' police said.

I was really shook up and scared, Coen said of his interview with police the night of the crash. I knew they would find out I was drinking, and I would basically lose my job.

On the evening of the crash, Coen drove out to Applegate Lake where he drank about 10 Coors Lite beers, he said. Stopping at his father's house, he drank about five more.

Wayne Coen, who consumed a few beers himself, testified that his son didn't seem impaired that much before he headed home. Edwin Coen continued to drink while driving, he told a Portland doctor specializing in alcohol addiction who testified for the defense.

Coen said he was positive that his pickup truck was in the proper lane at the time of the crash. But he admitted that he didn't know if his truck veered off the road several miles before meeting Thompson's car, as a witness for the prosecution claimed.

I just saw a bright light come right into me, and that was it, Coen said.

Paramedics pronounced Thompson, 58, dead after pulling him from his 1967 Ford Mustang. He was not wearing a seat belt. Coen was treated for minor injuries.

Coen's defense attorneys claimed that Thompson's car swerved into the oncoming lane when he locked up the car's brakes. Nothing at the crash scene indicated that Coen's full-sized pickup swerved out of its lane, according to a Portland engineer paid to testify for the defense.

But Oregon State Police troopers testifying for the state disagreed. The vehicles' positions after the crash place Coen's truck in Thompson's lane, they said. Skid marks show that Thompson tried to brake, troopers said, and there was no evidence to show that Coen reacted to the crash at all.

Convicted of DUII in 1997, Coen completed a diversion program on a previous DUII in 1994. He was convicted of attempting to elude police in 2000.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemonat 776-4487, or e-mail