Girlfriend, staff testify to Baird’s balance, drinking

VERO BEACH – Jurors will hear final arguments this afternoon before heading into deliberations now that both the prosecution and the defense have rested their cases in the DUI trial of County Administrator Joe Baird. Baird was not called to testify on his own behalf.

During testimony in the second day’s trial, Baird’s girlfriend and other told the court that Baird has balancing problems, which was argued to explain Baird’s poor performance on the field sobriety exercises conducted when he was pulled over. Local insurance agent and financial planner Lynn Hall testified to speaking with Baird for about five minutes between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at the Youth Guidance fundraiser.

“He had a beer in his hand, just like everybody else in the place,” Hall said. “We were talking and sipping our beer.”

At approximately 9:30 p.m., Hall said Baird did not seem impaired.

“I remember seeing Joe and he was perfectly fine,”

Hall said he thought Baird was good with numbers, of above-average intelligence and that he used to see him running on a regular basis along Beachland Boulevard.

“He’s a big runner,” he said.

Karen Deigl, Baird’s girlfriend of more than three years, was not at the fundraiser, but testified to her observations of Baird not being able to put on shoes or pants without sitting down due to balance problems.

“He has a gait that’s a little bit off balance,” she said.

Deigl said Baird’s problems with balance are “always present” and that “he is unable to do things that I would be able to do.”

She also testified that Baird has been an avid runner for years and that he rides a normal, two-wheeled bicycle often.

Dori Roy, assistant to the county administrator for five years and co-worker for 25 years, testified that she saw Baird at the event for about 15 to 20 minutes. She said he brought a pitcher of beer to her table, but that she did not recall seeing him drink or holding a drink, except the pitcher of beer he brought to her table.

“I didn’t feel like he was impaired, I wasn’t concerned that he had too much to drink,” Roy said.

Roy said she has witnessed Baird have trouble standing up from a sitting position “a few times a week” at work.

Barbara Schlitt Ford, executive director of Youth Guidance and a county employee, testified that she spent about five minutes with Baird and that he did not seem impaired. She said she did not recall seeing him drinking or holding a drink.

Phil Barth, owner of Barth Construction and a close friend of Baird, testified to seeing him at the party for at least an hour and to the fact that he and Baird left at near the same time and had agreed to meet Baird at the Long Branch Saloon.

Barth said he waited for Baird outside, but that he never showed up. Barth also testified, upon cross examination by Assistant State Attorney David Dodd, that he had recruited some of the other defense witnesses to testify, including architect John Binkley, who testified on Tuesday.

The state called Peter Armfield as a rebuttal witness who told the court Baird had more than beer to drink at the fundraiser.

Armfield said he was at the Youth Guidance fundraiser, where he was the auctioneer for the live auction and saw Baird there with a mixed drink in his hand.

Armfield bought Baird the drink and was charged for a mixed drink, but since Baird had ordered the drink directly from the bartender in a loud, crowded room, Armfield could not attest what type of alcohol specifically the drink contained.

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