Monday, March 23, 2009

Alleged Burn Should Have Lasted Longer, Expert Witness Says

The following testimony took place on 10/30/08—this article relies on the court transcript for details of the testimony.

Following the refusal of middle school teacher John Freshwater to remove the Bible from his desk, an allegation emerged that the use of a Tesla coil in his science classroom resulted in a student being burned.

An expert witness brought by the school testified that an injury like that depicted in photos he was shown, of the alleged burn, would take “three to four weeks” to heal. The student, Zachary Dennis, and his parents have made no claim under oath that the burn lasted any longer than twenty-four hours. (See update at end of article.)

Dr. David Levy testified during the fifth day of the Freshwater hearing on behalf of the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education. He is currently chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Saint Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown. Levy said that he did not have any training in forensic analysis of pictures.

Attorney for Freshwater, R. Kelly Hamilton, questioned Levy over his ability to come to a conclusion about what happened based on two photographs:

Q. “My question specifically to you, Doctor, is, could somebody create that particular marking to make it look like a burn but it not actually be a burn?”

A. “I imagine it's possible.”

Q. “You can't tell from a deduction of medical evidence as to whether or not that is a fabrication or it is a reality from an electrical instrument, correct?”

A. “Without seeing the arm itself, I could not.”


Q. “Would you agree that the best evidence for your review is to see the injury firsthand, correct?”

A. “Yes.”

Q. “And seeing it by pictures makes it more difficult to grasp the nature of the injury?”

A. “Yes.”


Q. “Can you tell the age of the person by looking at that arm in that picture?”

A. “No.”

The only expert opinion Levy was able to offer depended on the veracity of the photos. “As I testified, to me,” Levy said, “just from the pictures itself, it looks like a superficial second-degree burn which implies not only the epidermis, the outer skin layers involved, but a small portion of the dermis. Since there wasn't any blistering I see in the picture, it wouldn't be a deep second-degree burn.”

Previously, when Dennis testified, he credited sweating and the hockey equipment he was wearing during practice that day as causing the mark to worsen.

Hamilton asked Levy about this possibility. Levy said that sweating during practice would not do this but that equipment rubbing up against a burn might.

Levy testified that a burn from electricity depends on several factors including the duration of the contact. “It would depend on the resistance of the tissue, the ratio of contact […], voltage and also current flow,” Levy said.

Back in August 4th 2008 one of Freshwater’s fellow teachers, Lori Miller, spoke before the school board and said that she has used the Tesla coil in the same manner that Freshwater has without incident. “I have never had a concern or an issue with it and I cannot honesty comprehend how that device can burn an individual as alleged,” Miller said.

A lawsuit filed by Freshwater on June 9, 2009, contains information about what Dennis testfied to the second time he was on the witnes stand: "The alleged student who Defendant Board claimed had a mark on their arm for three-to-four (3-4) weeks most recently testified in the hearing on May 7, 2009, that the mark lasted 'About a week and a half, two weeks.'"

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