BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A north Lee County jury found a Morning Sun man guilty of leaving the scene of an accident where his girlfriend of about a year was found dead about nine hours later.
Damian Hamann, 29, took the stand Wednesday morning in Fort Madison and was questioned by his attorney, Curt Dial of Keokuk, and cross-examined by assistant Lee County Attorney Bruce McDonald.
Hamann is accused of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in the death of 20-year-old Sadie Alvarado in the early morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 5.
Testimony in the trial began on Tuesday and revealed that Alvarado jumped from the pick-up truck Hamann was driving after the two got into an argument about staying the night at a friend’s house.
Hamann told Dial that he had planned to spend the night at the friend’s house on 235th Avenue in West Point but Alvarado didn’t like staying at other people’s houses. After an argument at the home, the two ended up leaving his friend’s house at around 1 a.m. with plans to head back to Morning Sun and stay at Hamann’s residence there.
About 1/2 mile into the trip back on the gravel roads, Hamann said the two were still fighting and Alvarado said she was going to jump out of the car and opened the door and jumped out.
Hamann testified that he was traveling at speeds in the range of 20 mph in his truck that was also towing a trailer with a race car on the back. Hamann had raced in a Figure 8 event at Lee County Speedway on Saturday night. Hamann said Alvarado had been drinking at the races most of the night and at a bar in West Point with Hamann and some friends following the races. Hamann testified that he had one beer at the races and then three more beers at the bar over a span of about four hours before heading to his friend’s house. He told Dial he did not drink additionally that night.
Hamann told the jury that he didn’t stop to check on Alvarado because he didn’t think she was injured and assumed she was walking back to his friend’s house. On Monday during the state’s case, McDonald produced cellphone evidence through Lee County Sheriff’s detective Chad Donaldson that showed a string of texts between Hamann and his friend about the incident and inquiring to see if Alvarado had shown up. However, no evidence was found on the phone that indicated a call to emergency crews or law enforcement about the incident or Alvarado’s whereabouts.
Hamann proceeded to his home in Morning Sun and then came back to the area obtaining a ride from his ex-wife. He was at his friend’s house on 235th Avenue when Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Investigator Ryan Herman canvassed the neighborhood looking for evidence in the incident.
Herman testified that Hamann was visibly upset when he came to the door at his friend’s residence and told Herman that he believed the girl discovered in the ditch was his girlfriend. Hamann said his friend heard that the body was discovered on a scanner.
During his direct examination by Dial on Wednesday, Hamann said he was shaken when he heard from his friend that a body had been found in the ditch.
“He told me that there has been a body confirmed in the ditch, and I lost it. I was in tears,” Hamann told the jury.
Alvarado was found by Mike Ungerer and his wife who were on their way home from church. The two called 9-1-1 and flagged down another couple to help at the scene. Emergency response crews from Lee County EMS, Lee County Sheriff’s Department, West Point Fire & Rescue, and DCI were called to the scene.
McDonald produced photographic evidence that showed Alvarado less than 10 feet from the roadway and her sandals were found roughly 18 feet from her body. Upon investigation of the body, an ID with a different name was in Alvarado’s pocket, but her real identity was made when Hamann informed Herman that he believed it was his girlfriend.
Dr. Dennis Firchau of the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics Decedent Care Center, testified Tuesday that he ruled Alvarado’s death accidental due to multiple blunt force traumas to the head. In addition to subdural bleeding under the skull, Alvarado had severe bruising on the left side of her brain, along with multiple contusions and abrasions and a skull laceration. Firchau also testified that Alvarado’s blood-alcohol content was .184.
During his cross-examination of Hamann Wedneday morning, McDonald laid foundation that Hamann knew Alvarado was “very intoxicated” and that she said she was going to jump from the vehicle and opened the door and did it and Hamann didn’t stop.
“Did you stop to check on her…Did you even slow down?” McDonald asked Hamann.
“No. I didn’t believe she was injured.” Hamann said.
Dial told the jury during his closing statement that the state hadn’t produced any evidence to show how fast the truck was going and said he didn’t believe the state proved the incident was an accident because Hamann didn’t believe an accident had occurred. He said the jury was responsible for only considering the evidence produced at trial and nothing else.
“It’s an accident if you know there was an injury. He had no knowledge of any injury,” Dial told the jury.
During his closing statement, McDonald told the jury it isn’t plausible that Hamann didn’t think an injury could have occurred.
“He took off to protect himself and to hell with Sadie,” McDonald told the jury.
Hamann is currently released on bond and, according to Lee County Attorney Ross Braden, he will remain on bond until sentencing which was set for Feb. 1. Braden said he will be looking for jail time of Hamann on the Class D felony conviction.
“It carries an indeterminate prison sentence, but we’ll be asking for jail time considering the circumstances,” Braden said after the trial.
Dial asked District Judge Michael Schilling at several points during the trial for a directed judgement and dismissal which were denied. After the verdict was read, Dial asked for the judge for a deferred judgment consideration and Schilling said the court would look into the matter. Dial said the sentence could be prison time, probation or a deferred judgment which would carry a term of probation and, if completed successfully, would wipe the conviction off Hamann’s record.