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Mixed findings on Colorado marijuana, traffic deaths

Colorado Marijuana Holiday

The number of highway deaths involving Colorado drivers who had marijuana in their system grew again in 2017, a new state study shows.

At the same time, traffic fatalities in which drivers had enough marijuana in their bloodstream to be deemed legally impaired dropped sharply, from 52 in 2016 to 35 last year.

The reason for this seeming contradiction: Marijuana can remain in the bloodstream for weeks, so a positive blood test may not mean a driver was stoned at the time of a deadly crash.

As the Colorado Department of Transportation study notes, “The presence of a cannabinoid does not necessarily indicate recent use of marijuana or impairment.”

Overall, the number of fatalities involving positive tests for marijuana has nearly doubled since recreational legalization in 2014, from 75 that year to 125 in 2016 and 139 last year.

Colorado law specifies that drivers with five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a milliliter of their blood can be prosecuted for driving under the influence of marijuana.

A striking finding in the new study was the death toll involving people driving around with a cocktail of drugs in their bodies. In one year, deaths where drivers tested positive for cannabis, any alcohol and other drugs tripled — from eight in 2016 to 25 last year.

The report also found that drunken driving deaths had increased again. Twenty-six percent of those killed in crashes, or 171 people, had blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater, Colorado’s drunken driving limit, compared to 161 in 2016 and 151 in 2015.

Meanwhile, traffic deaths generally continued to increase on state roads, going from 546 in 2015 to 608 in 2016 and spiking to 648 last year.

CDOT spokesman Sam Cole said the department considers the number of deaths in which the driver was marijuana-impaired under state law to be the most reliable indicator of its impact on the highways.

By that measure, marijuana-related deaths are clearly down.

“Presence does not indicate impairment,” he said. At the same time, “two years does not make a trend.”

Kristi Kelly, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, welcomed the state finding that marijuana-impaired highway deaths declined last year.

She added that the industry intends to keep campaigning against smoking and driving.

“We don’t think our job is done,” she said.

Henny Lasley heads Smart Colorado, a group concerned about the effects of legalization on children.

She worries that the latest highway death statistics will be used to loosen state regulations and promote public consumption of marijuana products.

First, “The science of impairment is lacking,” she said.

“More concerning is why people are combining” marijuana, alcohol and other drugs, she said. “The combination is very concerning.”

Cole agrees.

Before fatal drug-related crashes, “drivers do tend to combine,” he said. “When you combine, it will amplify your impairment.”

https://gazette.com/news/state-colorado-traffic-deaths-involving-marijuana-rise-again/article_ec6a8f4c-a722-11e8-9c81-17b5312abb33.html

Beto O’Rourke arrested in 1990s for burglary and DWI

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke of Texas has said that in younger days he was twice arrested in his hometown of El Paso–once, he says, for leaping a campus fence and the other time for driving while intoxicated.

Readers have asked us whether the third-term congressman challenging Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has a criminal history. We decided to fact-check mention of the arrests in a 2012 TV ad that also was screenshot for an April 2017 Texas Tribune news story.

In the ad, sponsored by then-U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, text next to what looks like O’Rourke’s mugshot states that the “facts” are that O’Rourke has a “criminal record” including burglary and DWI. The ad’s narrator says O’Rourke “has a criminal record that includes DWI and burglary arrests.”

That he does, we confirmed, which he’s acknowledged since his first run for office.

We tried to phone and email Reyes about his claim and failed to connect. Next, we attempted to get our own fix on the facts by seeking documentation of the DWI arrest through a public information request to the El Paso Police Department. Martin Rodriguez, a department records specialist, said by email the agency had no responsive records. We similarly queried the University of Texas at El Paso about the earlier arrest and didn’t immediately hear back.

 

Separately, we ran a background check of O’Rourke using the LexisNexis service. According to the results, O’Rourke’s May 1995 misdemeanor arrest on the UTEP campus was later declined and his September 1998 misdemeanor DWI arrest in El Paso was dismissed.

The check gave us case numbers for the arrests enabling us to fetch an El Paso County record stating that O’Rourke was initially arrested in May 1995 and that case was disposed of in February 1996. We saw too that after the DWI arrest, according to another county record, O’Rourke was referred to a misdemeanor diversion program in March 1999 and completed “DWI school” in May 1999. That document’s last entry, dated Oct. 20, 1999, says: “Misdemeanor diversion completed successfully.”

Campaign: O’Rourke often confirms arrests

When we sought detail from O’Rourke’s spokesman, Chris Evans, he said by email that O’Rourke had consistently addressed his arrests, notably during campaign stops in Paris, Sunnyside, San Antonio and Houston, where O’Rourke told a group in August 2018 that he spent a night in the El Paso County jail after what he referred to as his 1995 arrest for criminal trespass.

In San Antonio, a resident told O’Rourke she’d seen what someone described as his mugshot. O’Rourke replied: “More than 20 years ago, I was arrested–not once, but twice. So you should know that and we should all own that, if asked.” O’Rourke specified that he’d been arrested for attempting to hop a fence at the University of Texas at El Paso and later, he said, for a “far more serious mistake: I drove under the influence of alcohol. There’s no justifying that.”

April 1995 news story

The oldest published account of the arrests appears to be an April 2005 El Paso Times news story about O’Rourke’s successful run for a seat on the El Paso City Council. The story, which we found by searching the Nexis news database, quoted the incumbent, Anthony Cobos, stressing O’Rourke’s DWI arrest. Cobos, who later served as county judge before being convicted on embezzlement charges, said at the time: “I think you lead by example and his example speaks for itself.”

According to the story, O’Rourke was arrested on a DWI charge in September 1998 that was dismissed in 1999 after he completed a court-recommended DWI program. “I’ve been open about that since the very beginning. I have owned up to it and I have taken responsibility for it,” O’Rourke told the paper.

The Times further reported that court records showed that O’Rourke earlier was arrested in 1995 at UTEP on a burglary of building charge, which was later dropped. O’Rourke told the paper: “That happened while I was in college. I along with some friends were horsing around, and we snuck under the fence at the UTEP physical plant and set off an alarm. We were arrested by UTEP police. … UTEP decided not to press charges. We weren’t intending to do any harm,” he was quoted saying.

O’Rourke’s campaign later provided a photo of a document Evans described by email as the original UTEP police report on O’Rourke’s arrest there. It says O’Rourke and two other students were arrested at the university’s Physical Plant under the “burglary” portion of the state penal code, section 30.02, for “attempted forcible entry.”

Congressman Reyes’ TV ad

Seven years later, then-Rep. Reyes unveiled his ad, which was still viewable online as of Aug. 22, 2018.

A May 2012 Times news story on the ad quoted O’Rourke saying that he was driving an intoxicated friend home when he was arrested for DWI. The story said that according to police records, O’Rourke completed a diversion program and the charge was dismissed.

In August 2017, more recently, O’Rourke described the arrests to an East Texas newspaper. The Palestine Herald-Pressquoted him saying: “Some 20 years ago, I was charged with driving under the influence and, during my college years, I jumped a fence at the University of Texas at El Paso which resulted in a burglary charge,” O’Rourke said. “I was not convicted of either.

“Both incidents were due to poor judgement and I have no excuse for my behavior then. However, since then, I have used my opportunities to serve my community and my state. I’m grateful for the second chance and believe that we all deserve second chances.”

Our ruling

A 2012 Reyes TV ad still viewable online six years later said O’Rourke “has a criminal record that includes DWI and burglary arrests.”

O’Rourke’s comments and records indicate that UTEP police arrested O’Rourke in 1995 for  burglary, a misdemeanor charge disposed of the next year. In 1998, El Paso police arrested O’Rourke for DWI, a misdemeanor charge that was dismissed after he completed “DWI school” the next year.

We rate the claim True.

https://www.chron.com/politics/politifact/article/Beto-O-Rourke-arrested-in-1990s-for-burglary-and-13175793.php

FDLE: Hundreds of Northeast Florida DUI cases may be wrong

Breathalyzer tests in Duval, Nassau, St. Johns purchased from unofficial vendor

By Ethan Calloway – Anchor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Imagine getting arrested for driving under the influence, only to later learn you weren’t actually over the legal limit. It could happen to hundreds of cases in Northeast Florida.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement discovered more than 250Breathalyzer tests distributed by the Florida Highway Patrol within Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties weren’t completed properly. Despite that, it says there’s no way to know for sure those tests are inaccurate.

“It’s junk. It’s just plain junk,” said David Robbins, a DUI attorney. “They are playing with people’s lives and it’s reckless.”

According to the FDLE, the breathalyzer tests administered October 2017 to July 2018 may have been calibrated using unapproved methods as they were purchased from an unofficial vendor. That means they could be wrong.

As attorney Susan Cohen explained, whether the case is admissible depends on what’s known as the alcohol reference solutions. Those are used to determine the results of the breathalyzer in the field.

Still, Cohen said, the outcome doesn’t mean all affected DUI suspects will avoid conviction.

“The only thing this impacts is the breath test result.” Cohen said. “While that is significant, there may be other evidence, there may be a video, there may be sufficient other evidence that the state can still prosecute the case.”

Robbins said in many instances, it wouldn’t make a difference if the case was thrown out.

“People lose their jobs, people get jail sentences. You can’t give them back a jail sentence. They’re not going to get their job back,” Robbins said.

FDLE said it’s unclear why the solutions were purchased from an unapproved vendor. FHP said going forward officers will be using the approved solution.

https://www.news4jax.com/news/florida/https:/www.news4jax.com/news/florida/fdle-hundreds-of-northeast-florida-dui-cases-may-be-wrong

Deputy fought with officers during drunk driving arrest

Deputy Robert Nathan Fontana, 27, was arrested Saturday for AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – A Wayne County deputy was arrested for drunk driving and fighting with officers in Auburn Hills early Saturday morning, police said.

Deputy Robert Nathan Fontana, 27, is facing a drunk driving charge, as well as misdemeanor charges of possessing a firearm while intoxicated and resisting arrest, according to officials.

Police said Fontana was pulled over about 1:12 a.m. Saturday after he was observed driving at 90 mph and nearly hitting another car on northbound I-75 near Lapeer Road. The deputy informed arresting officers that he was armed with a pistol, and he was arrested for drunk driving.

While being transported to the police station, officers said Fontana was able to get his handcuffs in front of himself. The deputy then attempted to choke himself out, according to police. Officers said that when they pulled over to resecure the deputy, he became combative.

Fontana was taken to the hospital before being transported to the Oakland County Jail, according to officials.

Fontana was arraigned on Monday. His bond was set at $20,000, officials said.

https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/wayne-county-deputy-fought-with-officers-during-drunk-driving-arrest-in-auburn-hills-police-say

Former DJ sentenced to probation for wrong-way DUI crash

A former Indianapolis radio personality who pleaded guilty to hitting multiple cars in Fountain Square while driving under the influence will spend the next two years on probation.

Last week Zachary Babb, 30, was sentenced to serve 714 days on probation and perform 64 hours of community service on one count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated while endangering a person, according to online court records.

The man previously known as to listeners as “Zakk On Air” on WZPL-FM was also originally charged with operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent of 0.15 or more with a prior conviction, but online records indicate that the charge was dismissed as part of a plea deal.

The incident that led to Babb’s arrest and charges happened around 10:30 p.m. at Woodlawn Avenue and Shelby Street on Aug. 4, 2017, according to court documents.

Police said Babb was driving his 2016 Chevrolet Equinox in the wrong direction down one-way Shelby Street. Babb slammed his vehicle into five parked cars along Shelby Street, court documents said.

A police report lists one of the victims as chef and restaurant owner Neal Brown.

When police arrived at the scene, they approached Babb and smelled alcohol on his breath. Police then took Babb into custody. Court documents said that is when Babb “became belligerent toward officers.” He told investigators that he was a radio DJ and said that he was being treated unfairly.

He then refused to take sobriety tests both at the scene and at the hospital, court documents said.

This is not the first time Babb was placed on probation for driving under the influence. Jail records show that Babb was booked for operating while intoxicated in June 2016. He eventually pleaded guilty to that charge and was sentenced to a year of probation.

https://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2018/08/20/former-local-dj-sentenced-probation-wrong-way-owi-crash/1040263002/