Congress considers devices on cars to prevent drunken driving after death of Michigan family

WASHINGTON – The deaths of a Michigan family of five in January when a truck slammed into their car in Kentucky has Congress wondering whether interlock devices that keep drunken drivers off the road entirely should be mandatory for all vehicles.

On Thursday, members of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee specifically invoked the deaths of Issam Abbas, his wife, Rima, and their three children as they questioned whether technology that could keep vehicles from being operated by any drunken driver should be more widely required.

And while any move to mandate devices in all vehicles to keep them from starting without the driver first blowing into a tube or taking some other action to test his or her sobriety is unlikely in the near future, it was clear that some members of Congress and safety advocates believe that federal regulators should be moving in that direction.  

“What’s sad is that this story has been repeated over and over again and Congress needs to step up and do something about it,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. “The technology exists to save lives.”

The Abbas family, clockwise from left, Ali, Rima, Issam, Isabelle and Giselle, pose for a photo at a wedding in 2018.

The Abbas family, clockwise from left, Ali, Rima, Issam, Isabelle and Giselle, pose for a photo at a wedding in 2018. (Photo: Bill Mcdad, Bill Mcdad)

At present, interlock devices are generally only required by state courts after someone has been arrested for drunken driving. But with more than 10,000 drunken driving fatalities a year, some safety advocates and members of Congress are pushing legislation, such as Dingell’s Abbas Stop Drunk Driving Act, which could mandate interlock devices in an effort keep drunken drivers off the road.

The family was headed home from a vacation trip when a truck operated by 41-year-old Joey Bailey hit their vehicle head-on on Jan. 6 on I-75 in Kentucky. A coroner said Bailey had a blood-alcohol level of .306, well above the .08 legal limit to drive.

The only technology currently available involves an interlock device that connects to the car and requires the driver to blow into a tube before the vehicle will start. 

But for more than a decade, the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety — an organization funded by domestic and international automakers — has been working on technology that could result in devices that keep a car from starting based on more passive testing, such as automatically measuring the blood-alcohol of a driver as he or she breathes naturally behind the wheel, or a touch-based system that “measures blood alcohol levels by shining an infrared–light through the fingertip of the driver.

Robert Strassburger, the president and CEO of the coalition, said the technology is still being developed and is only being tested on less than a half-dozen vehicles in Virginia. But he hopes it will be available for a wider fleet of vehicles — such as government agency vehicles — for testing by next year and for commercial purchase by 2004.

Automakers aren’t, at this point, advocating making such technology — or the available interlock devices — mandatory, however, and are generally loathe to have federal regulators or Congress force requirements on them, especially if there are fears that the public isn’t ready to accept them or they could result in unacceptably high costs.

The auto industry has also been investing heavily into the promise of automated vehicles, which could potentially make the problem of drunken driving virtually disappear — though that technology is also unlikely to be widely available in the near future.

The Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, a trade group of domestic and international automakers, put out a statement saying that automakers continue to work to address impaired driving and support present-day ignition interlocks and law enforcement’s use of them, though it said those rules could always be reviewed.

“Industry, in cooperation with the federal government, is also examining emerging technologies to combat drunk driving,” the Alliance statement continued. “Such technology must not hassle the sober driver. It also must be small, quick, noninvasive, accurate, reliable, repeatable, foolproof, durable and easy to maintain.  And, of course, it must have the public’s support.” 

Safety advocates and others, meanwhile, argued that Strassburger and the industry are dragging their feet and that if they won’t make faster progress, Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should require — by a certain date — that the existing interlock devices be mandated on vehicles.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with the industry on this issue,” said Joan Claybrook, a board member of the safety group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator in the Carter administration. 

“Where is this system?” she continued. “It didn’t take this long to produce (the technology for) air bags and air bags are a lot more complicated than this. Why is this not in every car?”

Strassburger and David Kelly, the executive director of the Coalition of Interlock Ignition Manufacturers, said that it is vital to build consumer support for such systems or there could be backlash. Some members of the committee questioned whether drivers might also find ways to disable or otherwise get around the technology.

“(We have) always been built to try to increase consumer awareness at the same time as technology,” said Stassburger. He added that “not hassling drivers (who) are not the problem is a very important consideration.”

Dingell, however, said that the promises of technology that will end drunken driving still seem to keep getting pushed off. “We keep funding it, but it doesn’t get there.”

LSD-impaired man who killed another driver in crash gets 10-year prison sentence

Man sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing man in crash while he was on LSD
Gavin Veium was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday for killing another driver in June in a crash on John Nolen Drive that happened while he was driving under the influence of a psychedelic drug.ED TRELEVEN, STATE JOURNAL

A Madison man who killed another driver while driving under the influence of LSD last year was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison after a serious tongue-lashing from a Dane County judge who said he saw no sign of remorse from the man.

Dane County Circuit Judge William Hanrahan also sentenced Gavin Veium, 22, to five years of extended supervision for the June 23 crash on John Nolen Drive that killed Diano McCullough, 45, of Madison.

Veium’s sentencing hearing began with seven members of McCullough’s family, including his life partner and his mother, telling Hanrahan how McCullough’s high character and positive energy have been missed by his 8-year-old son and an extended family that includes nieces, nephews and cousins.

The hearing ended with Hanrahan telling Veium that his lack of character was a significant factor in his long prison sentence. Hanrahan said Veium’s character issues were most evident when he broke conditions of his bail on several occasions, including one time that led to the revocation of Veium’s bail.

On that occasion, Veium, who was under an order to consume no alcohol, flunked a remote alcohol check. Veium blamed it on eating a lot of tiramisu just before the test. He said at the time that he was unaware the dessert contains rum.

Hanrahan told Veium, who kept his head bowed through most of the hearing, that he was hoping to see him show remorse and take some steps toward making a positive change in his life after the crash.

“What I got was a guy who didn’t give a damn,” Hanrahan said. “I wanted to find out what I was dealing with and I got my answer.”

According to a criminal complaint, Veium’s Mercury Marquis was traveling around 60 mph when it crashed into the back of McCullough’s SUV, which was stopped at a red light on John Nolen Drive around 3:35 a.m. on June 23. The SUV caught fire after the impact lifted it off the ground and pushed it into a traffic standard near South Blair Street, a witness told police.

The SUV was ablaze when police arrived. McCullough was dead at the scene. An autopsy found that he died of inhalation of burning materials and burn injuries, along with blunt force trauma.

The complaint states Veium admitted later to a nurse at UW Hospital that he had taken the psychedelic drug LSD. Assistant District Attorney William Brown said Veium had also used marijuana.

Brown called the crash the worst impaired-driving homicide he has ever seen. He asked Hanrahan to sentence Veium to 10 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision.

McCullough died when his SUV “blew up and burned with him inside,” Brown said. “The amount of suffering this man had to endure because of the selfish, negligent actions of another is simply astonishing.”

Veium’s lawyer, Laura Breun, asked Hanrahan to sentence Veium to three years in prison and three years of extended supervision. She said Veium, who had a difficult upbringing, is a first-time offender and a presentence investigation found no signs of anti-social or criminal behavior. She also told Hanrahan that it wasn’t long ago that a case like this would end with no prison time because the crime wasn’t premeditated and showed no malice.

Hanrahan agreed the crime wasn’t premeditated. He said Veium never would have gotten into the car if he thought it would lead to killing someone in a crash.

“You just weren’t thinking,” Hanrahan told Veium.

After the hearing, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said that isn’t uncommon among impaired drivers. That’s why more education is needed to teach young drivers to think before they drive, he said.

“What we are seeing is that people who do get into these accidents, this isn’t the first time they’ve driven under the influence,” he said. “What we see with alcohol use is their inhibitions are lowered and they start thinking about, ‘Well, am I going to get caught?’ They don’t think they are that bad until the tragedy occurs.”

Ozanne said Veium’s sentence is a sign of the times.

“I think there has been a consistent shift over time where people are starting to get tired of people losing their lives senselessly on our roads,” he said.

Just before he was sentenced, Veium told Hanrahan, “I know I have no right to ask for forgiveness. I’m truly sorry for this.”

Hanrahan praised McCullough’s family members, some of whom had forgiven Veium earlier in the hearing. The judge said McCullough’s spirit lives on through them.

Police employee ejected from vehicle after DUI suspect’s truck crashes into her

An Anaheim Police Department employee was critically injured when her vehicle was struck by a driver suspected of driving under the influence of drugs Saturday afternoon, March 9, authorities said. The suspect earlier Saturday was involved in an unrelated incident in which his vehicle struck another vehicle and he fled the scene, police said.

Jose Alfredo Alcantar Garcia, 34, of Placentia. (Courtesy of Anaheim Police Department)

The employee, a Traffic Control Assistant, was in a stopped, marked vehicle performing traffic control duties on La Palma Avenue across the street from Servite High School when she was hit from behind by a pickup truck, Sgt. Daron Wyatt said.

The forced of the crash caused the employee to be ejected from her vehicle. Co-workers and paramedics performed medical aid before she was taken to a local trauma center in critical condition, Wyatt said.

The marked vehicle was blocking traffic in the westbound right lane of La Palma Avenue when the Toyota Tundra rear ended the vehicle, Wyatt said.

The driver of the truck, 34-year-old Jose Alfredo Alcantar Garcia of Placentia was arrested and booked at the Anaheim Detention Facility on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs causing great bodily injury, possession of methamphetamine for sale, transportation of methamphetamine and driving on a suspended license, Wyatt said.

Investigators believe he was driving under the influence of methamphetamine and marijuana when the crash occurred, the police department said in a statement. His bail was statutorily set at $100,000.

Anaheim police said Garcia was also booked on suspicion of hit-and-run after investigators determined that about an hour prior to the crash involving the traffic control assistant, Garcia was involved in a crash on eastbound La Palma and fled the scene. There were no injuries in that crash.

Semitruck driver who collided with car suspected to have been under the influence of drugs

Semitruck driver who collided with car in Moab suspected to have been under the influence of drugs
Photo courtesy of the Moab City Police Department Donald Ray Vaughn Jr.

A semitruck driver was suspected to be under the influence of drugs, police say, after the vehicle he was driving exited its lane on Moab’s Main Street and hit a car in a left turn lane on Saturday.

A police officer searched Donald Ray Vaughn Jr.’s vehicle and found plastic bags containing methamphetamine, heroin, suspected MDMA and several syringes, according to Moab Police Chief Jim Winder. Vaughn was arrested and taken to the Grand County Sheriff’s office jail facility.

Vaughn was charged with two counts of possession of a controlled substance, DUI, use or possession of drug paraphernalia, and being under the influence of drugs while on duty in a commercial vehicle.

Opioid epidemic spilling over onto roads, study says


Patients who are prescribed opioids and the clinicians who prescribe them have more to be concerned about than steadily rising rates of opioid overdoses, according to a new study.

The research, published in February in the journal JAMA Network Open, shows that drivers who are on prescribed opioids are twice as likely to be in deadly two-vehicle accidents than those not using the drugs. As the United States struggles with an opioid epidemic , these findings could affect health care providers’ decision-making processes, the authors say.

Statistics from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that although the rate of opioids prescribed per 100 people decreased from 72.4% to 66.5% from 2006 to 2016, 214 million opioid prescriptions are written each year.

Study author Dr. Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology and anesthesiology and the founding director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University, said he and co-author Stanford Chihuri, a staff associate in Columbia’s Department of Anesthesiology, were motivated to take on this research because “the ongoing opioid epidemic has spilled over to the nation’s roadways, with deadly consequences.”

For the study, the researchers used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System , which contains records from throughout the United States on motor vehicle crashes with at least one death within 30 days of the accident. This data is based on “driver-related factors,” the unsafe actions of drivers that lead to crashes. A driver with at least one driving error resulting in that fatal crash becomes known as the crash initiator.

The researchers used these driving errors to measure which drivers were at fault for crashes and used toxicology results to look for the presence of opioids.

After looking at 18,321 driver pairs who died in two-vehicle accidents between 1993 and 2016, Li and Chihuri found that 54.7% of deceased drivers who tested positive for prescribed opioids crashed because they were unable to stay in their lane. Additionally, more crash initiators overall tested positive for prescribed opioids, alcohol or both than those who were not initiators.

Previous research has shown that opioids can impair drivers by causing them to be dizzy, drowsy or even sedated. By decreasing alertness and increasing reaction time, opioids cause patients to be at increased risk of crashing while driving. The medications often carry warnings against driving, operating heavy machinery or participating in other potentially dangerous activities while taking them.

The authors acknowledge limitations to the study. Drivers who tested positive for an opioid were not necessarily impaired. Also, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System does not record the dosage of opioids or alcohol. And although driving errors were standardized to understand who was faulted for the accident, this may not be enough information and varies from state to state.

Li and Chihuri conducted a previous study that showed that, before the onset of the opioid epidemic in the 1990s, opioid use was responsible for only about 1% of driver deaths in the United States. As both illicit and prescription opioid use has increased, the number of motor vehicle deaths from opioid use has increased to at least 7%the study says.

To reverse this trend and ensure that patients do not fall victim to driving under the influence, education and collaboration between patients and clinicians is necessary, the researchers say.

Man killed his wife and two friends at her birthday party when they refused to let him drive drunk

A Mississippi man killed his wife and two friends at her birthday party when they refused to let him drive drunk
Michael Barnhill was arrested last week after killing three people who stopped him from driving drunk. One of the victims was the man’s wife, Marlee, who was celebrating her birthday with Barnhill and friends when the murders occurred. (Handout)

They were trying to look out for him, and he responded by killing them.

A Mississippi man was arrested last week after shooting three people who stopped him from driving drunk last week, according to a local CBS affiliate.

Marlee Barnhill was shot dead by her husband.
Marlee Barnhill was shot dead by her husband. (Carroll County Sheriff’s Office)

One of 30-year-old Michael Barnhill’s victims was his wife Marlee, who was celebrating her birthday with Barnhill and friends. She would have turned 27 the next day.

“These were all good friends having a nice time together,” Carroll County Sheriff Clint Walker said after the shootings. “Michael Barnhill, however, became drunk and belligerent during the course of the evening. The others discouraged his drunkenness, and he became angry and combative.”

According to the sheriff’s report, when Marlee refused to give her husband the keys to his truck, he went to the vehicle to retrieve a handgun.

Barnhill reportedly returned with the firearm, slapped a cigarette out of his wife’s hand and put a bullet in her chest. He then shot the party’s hosts, Jim and Brooks Harrell; neither of whom made it to the hospital alive.

“Marlee was trying to do the right thing to protect his life and the lives of other drivers,” Walker said.

Marlee had posted video on Facebook before the event where she shared beauty tips and spoke excitedly about seeing all of her friends at the big party.

“Happy March 1!!!! New month, New Goals, and my BIRTHDAY MONTH!” she excitedly posted while preparing for her big night.

Barnhill was arrested after a brief struggle with officers. He is charged with the three killings as well as two counts of attempted murder against a pair of party-goers who went into another room to protect the Harrells’ sleeping 10-year-old son.

Maine man argues he shouldn’t be convicted of drunk driving because his gut brews its own alcohol

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday denied the appeal of a Maine man who argued he shouldn’t have been convicted of drunk driving, because the lower court didn’t allow him to bring witnesses supporting his argument that his gut brews its own alcohol.

But instead of providing a clear precedent, one of the court’s justices raised concerns the wording of the court’s decision could inadvertently create a loophole allowing for an ignorance defense in future drunk driving cases.

Defendants may try to avoid drunk driving charges by saying they didn’t know there was alcohol in their drinks, Justice Donald Alexander wrote in a concurrent brief.

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John Burbank was arrested and charged with operating under the influence and operating beyond license restrictions in August 2016 after police found him with a blood alcohol level nearly four times the legal limit.

Burbank’s attorneys argued in Lincoln County court that he suffers from a rare condition known as auto-brewery syndrome, in which the body involuntarily ferments alcohol in its digestive system and intoxicates the person.

But the lower court did not accept testimony from Burbank’s two witnesses supporting the claim, determining one was unqualified and the other was submitted too late.

[Hope woman pleads guilty to manslaughter, OUI in fatal crash case]

Without the witnesses, Burbank pleaded no contest to the charges and pursued a[n appeal.

On Thursday, Maine’s top court issued its ruling that the lower court was acting within its constitutional right to block the two witnesses, acknowledging the first, a toxicologist, had “no training or work experience relating to the condition,” and the second was brought forward more than a year after an early 2017 dispositional conference.

However, the state supreme court made it a point to say it was not ruling the defense itself was inadmissible, just that the lower court was fine to reject those two particular witnesses.

“[O]ur opinion should not be construed as implicitly accepting the notion that the crime of OUI does not encompass a situation where the alcohol in the accused’s system is generated through some endogenous process,” the ruling, written by Justice Jeffrey Hjelm, read, in part.

[Maine’s top court suspends Portland attorney]

That aspect of the ruling could be problematic, Alexander wrote in his concurrent brief, as it bucks decades of precedent saying that it’s illegal to drive while intoxicated, whether the person was responsible for their own intoxication or not.

State statute, which was reinforced by a 1980 court ruling in another case, says that in order to be guilty of operating under the influence, a person must be simply operating a motor vehicle and under the influence of intoxicants, Alexander wrote.

The justice continued that he worries the court’s decision “perhaps [suggests] that involuntariness might be a defense to an excessive blood alcohol charge.”

“If the court’s approach prevails, and the ‘uncommon’ defense is left unaddressed, it may invite many ‘I didn’t know there was vodka in my orange juice’ or similar defenses” to drunk driving charges, Alexander wrote.

[Maine man arrested in connection with suspected overdose death]

The justice wrote that the courts should have rejected the witnesses in question not because of their qualifications or timeliness, but because it shouldn’t have mattered whether Burbank suffered from auto-brewery syndrome under state law.

“This court should decide the issue of involuntary intoxication defense directly rather than to appear to acknowledge it by reaching the expert qualifications issue while deferring the issue we decided 40 years ago ‘to another day,’” Alexander wrote.

Man arrested on suspicion of OWI at Taco Bell

drunk driving. MWC file photo.
drunk driving. MWC file photo. 

WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) — An incident at a Wausau Taco Bell drive-thru led to the arrest of a 26-year-old man for third offense OWI.

Employees of the Grand Avenue Taco Bell location reported a man asleep behind the wheel of his vehicle in the drive-thru lane at around 3 AM Sunday. Upon further investigation, officers found a reason to believe the man was intoxicated and driving with a revoked license.

A passenger in the front seat was also asleep when officers arrived.

The situation could have been much worse, as the car was still in drive but the man’s foot was on the brake.

The man’s identity has not been released.

Man charged after striking house with pickup truck

Hudson man charged after striking house with pickup truck

Hudson man charged after striking house with pickup truckHUDSON, N.H. —

A driver is facing a DWI charge after striking a Hudson home with his pickup truck Monday.

Just before 6 p.m., Hudson police and firefighters responded to 1 River Ave. for a report of a motor vehicle collision into a residence. First responders located a 2003 Chevrolet pickup crashed into the corner of the house.

The driver, Gregory Black, 64, of Hudson, appeared to have minor injuries and was transported to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua. While at the hospital, Black was placed under arrest for suspicion of driving while intoxicated and was released on bail. 


The truck was extensively damaged. There was some exterior damage to the front of the house. The Hudson building inspector responded and found no structural damage. There were no injuries reported inside the house.

This crash remains under investigation

Matt Gaetz DUI Arrest: What Led to His Mugshot

matt gaetz mugshot

Getty Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of DUI, but was never charged.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican representing Florida’s first congressional district, made headlines after tweeting a post aimed at former Trump attorney Michael Cohen that instantly raised questions about possible witness intimidation. 

Rep. Gaetz posted the tweet the day before Cohen was scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee. It read, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…”

Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…

— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) February 26, 2019

Rep. Gaetz has quickly denied that his statement could be viewed as a threat. He told reporters at the Capitol, “We’re witness testing, not witness tampering. And when witnesses come before Congress, their truthfulness and veracity are in question and we have the opportunity to test them.” When asked to clarify what his tweet meant, he responded, “I think my tweet speaks for itself. You should go read it.”

Cohen is expected to provide evidence of alleged criminal misconduct by President Trump during his testimony before the House committee on February 27. Critics have argued whether Cohen’s statement can be trusted because he has admitted to lying to Congress before. 

This isn’t Rep. Gaetz’s first run-in with controversy. A picture that appears in a google search of his name is an old mugshot, which he has addressed multiple times in his political career.

Here’s what you need to know.

Matt Gaetz Was Arrested in 2008 On Suspicion of DUI Before He Was Elected to the Florida House 

Matt Gaetz

Matt Gaetz

Rep. Gaetz has prior experience making headlines for less-than-positive reasons. He has always been very open about his own brush with the law before he became a state congressman. (He was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2010 and to the U.S. Congress in 2016).

Gaetz was arrested on suspicion of DUI on October 30, 2008, when he was 26 years old. He was driving home from a nightclub and was pulled over for driving 48 in a 35 mile-per-hour zone, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The SUV belonged to his father, State Senator Don Gaetz. 

The deputy, identified as Chris Anglin of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department, wrote in the arrest report that Gaetz had been unsteady on his feet and that his eyes were bloodshot. Gaetz reportedly admitted to having had two beers and refused to perform a field sobriety test or take a breath test. 

Gaetz Was Never Convicted & He Has Promoted Efforts to Have Mugshots Removed From Private Websites 

The case against Gaetz was officially dropped in December of 2008. His attorney argued that there had been no evidence Gaetz had been impaired while behind the wheel. Deputy Anglin ended up quitting his job shortly after arresting Gaetz, after he was accused of grabbing a suspect’s neck during another arrest in early November.

Gaetz was never convicted for DUI. But his mugshot was published online. After becoming a Florida congressman, Gaetz supported efforts to have mugshots of unconvicted people removed from private websites. Nothing was passed while he was in state office. But in 2018, a Florida law went into effect that requires websites to take down mugshots if requested without charging a fee. 

Despite the lack of a conviction, Gaetz’s opponents used the DUI arrest against him in the 2018 midterm election. An anti-Republican political action committee paid for a billboard in Pensacola that included Gaetz’s mugshot and the words, “Rep. Matt Gaetz, how many DUIs have you had? The voters deserve to know.”