Getting Off

Attorney Tyler Flood says he wins 80 percent of his clients' DWI trials, even if they were 100 percent drunk as a skunk.

"When I'm driving, I continue to argue with her in my mind," he says.

Lena called Tukanov's cell phone. He swore and spiked the phone into the floor. Then his airbag smacked him in the face.

Though he had scratches all over his arms and chest, Tukanov told the police he was fine. Soon he was on his way to the station. When he arrived, Tukanov says, he refused the breathalyzer because he wanted a blood test, which he had heard was more reliable and believed he had the right to take. But unless there is a nurse with a needle on hand, as there are during no-refusal weekends, a blood test requires a trip to the hospital and a wait at the back of the emergency-room line, which police aren't eager to accommodate.

Sergei Tukanov admitted to drinking, failed all field sobriety tests and refused a breathalyzer test on the night he crashed into a police car. Tyler Flood convinced a jury that Tukanov hadn't been drunk.
Chris Curry
Sergei Tukanov admitted to drinking, failed all field sobriety tests and refused a breathalyzer test on the night he crashed into a police car. Tyler Flood convinced a jury that Tukanov hadn't been drunk.
Andrea Podlesney, Flood's paralegal, has won cases with her eye for detail. She takes notes while Flood fires questions off the cuff in court.
Chris Curry
Andrea Podlesney, Flood's paralegal, has won cases with her eye for detail. She takes notes while Flood fires questions off the cuff in court.

For the next nine months, Tukanov says of his life: "It's nightmare."

Drivers who refuse breath tests have their licenses automatically suspended for a year, though by filing an appeal within 15 days a good DWI attorney can overturn this quite often. Tukanov, a mechanical engineer, first hired a corporate lawyer and instead had his license suspended, along with an ignition interlock — which requires a clean breath sample to start a car — installed in his Nissan.

Rain or shine, Tukanov rode his bike three miles to work. But he was required to start his car with the interlock every two days, and to illegally drive it once a month for an inspection, or he'd get in trouble with the judge.

"It sounds funny right now," Tukanov says. "But your car is in your garage, and you can't drive, and you have to blow in this device...and this device is crazy!"

It sometimes took Tukanov 40 minutes to blow correctly, with the interlock beeping madly each time he failed. He had to blow while he was on the road. One time, sober, he blew a .119. Four hours later, he blew .00.

All the while, Tukanov found himself unable even to buy groceries for his son.

"I am alone. I could not solve easiest problem," he says. "It drove me crazy of course. It's absolutely abnormal life."

Eventually Tukanov hired Flood and prepared himself for trial.

Flood worried he'd have to subpoena Lena, who initially fought against testifying and had since married another man, and he had no idea how she'd act on the stand. He wasn't sure that Tukanov should even speak. The evidence looked bad. It was by far the toughest case Flood had ever brought to trial.

"He didn't believe we're going to win to [the] last minute," Tukanov says.

Flood planned to attack the sobriety tests in the order they were given. First came the pen test, or HGN.

Tukanov's eyes had swollen in the days following the crash. Egdorf, who plays hockey, recalled on the stand that his own eyes often suffered a similar fate following harsh blows to the head. Flood was armed with photos, diagrams and medical definitions. He explained that head injuries can cause anomalies in the HGN.

A large man fresh from a car crash, on top of an emotional breakup, and possibly suffering from a head injury, could not be reasonably expected to balance on one leg, or walk heel-to-toe with poise, Flood further reasoned.

As Tukanov recounted his story of heartbreak on the stand, Flood then wondered whether a thick Russian accent might be mistaken for slurred speech.

Lena, wearing a white satin jumpsuit, wooed the jury with her own accent. And she swore Tukanov had consumed just a glass and a half of champagne, which he hated anyway, and had only purchased for her.

Tukanov slept for three days straight after the verdict came.

And Flood had the big win he needed for his upcoming marketing blitz.
_____________________

It is Halloween night and Flood, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, and wearing contacts, marches into an intox center on Riesner Street with a court order in his hand. The weekend has been declared "no refusal," and the holding cell will soon fill with alleged drunk drivers, some in costume, such as a bearded man with running makeup and a dress. Empty vials await the blood of those who refuse a breathalyzer.

Word of each refusal will be sent to Judge Bill Harmon, who is off playing poker at a friend's house. Harmon will then grant a search warrant for the suspect's blood. The suspect will be brought from the cell to a room with a lone camcorder facing down from a pole, a gurney chair, a large man named Jeff and a needle. Flood claims his court order allows him to watch the proceedings of what he calls the "vampire cops."

He had become frantic hours earlier when a friend in the district attorney's office called to say he wouldn't be allowed inside as promised, raging at the unfairness of it all and rushing to his office to draft a legal memo to help his case. Police likely suspect Flood is looking for ways to challenge the increasingly common tests in court. They are probably right. Officer Egdorf is called over to send him home.

Flood argues and complains, flashes his order and his memo, but Egdorf refuses to budge until at last Flood cools down and agrees to leave. Suddenly Flood smiles.

"Arrest a lot of people tonight," he says on his way out the door.

mike.giglio@houstonpress.com

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2 comments
dajuice01
dajuice01

houston you have a problem .

justicehead
justicehead

He ranks up there with Allison hart of lavely and singer and Marty Singer. But, they get dangerous criminals like cancer comedian, tig notaro, off.

 
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