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.

Lawyer Who Won Supreme Court DUI Case: ‘Straight Black-Letter Law’

Greg Willis, Willis Law Firm, Atlanta (Courtesy photo)

The Georgia Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion Monday barring a drunken-driving defendant’s refusal to take a blood test from being used as evidence at trial is being portrayed as a bombshell ruling threatening to undermine law enforcement’s ability to keep impaired drivers off the road.

In fact, as Justice Keith Blackwell noted during oral arguments last year, an array of amicus briefs filed by the Office of the Attorney General, Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia and district attorneys from Cherokee, Gwinnett and Athens-Clarke counties weighing in to support the state’s implied consent law presented a “sky is falling” scenario if the justices ruled exactly as they did.

But the lawyer who argued and won the case said he believed the outcome was likely all along.

“I would like to say that this was some magnificent legal work, but it’s really just straight black-letter law,” said Willis Law Group principal Gregory Willis. “My entire argument was that the Georgia Constitution has been interpreted this way since 1879. Every one of our constitutions has used the same language.”

Willis’ client, Andrea Elliott, was stopped by Athens police in 2015 and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and other offenses. She was read the Georgia “Implied Consent Notice,” which notifies drivers they are required to submit to blood, breath or urine tests. Drivers also are told that refusal to comply can result in their license being suspended and that refusal can be offered as evidence at a criminal trial.

Elliott refused to take a breath test and was arrested and jailed.

Her lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence, which the trial court denied.

During oral arguments last April, Willis argued that the use of Elliott’s breath test at trial was a violation of her constitutional protections against self-incrimination under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment and the Paragraph XVI of the Georgia Constitution.

Athens-Clarke County Chief Assistant Solicitor William Fleenor argued the requirement to take a test is not a “coerced action” but is instead part of the agreement between a driver and state laying out the duties and obligations necessary to drive in Georgia.

If the justices did feel there might be constitutional concerns, he said, the state has a compelling interest in keeping impaired drivers off the road. The statute is narrowly tailored to meet that interest and thus meets the “strict scrutiny” necessary to pass constitutional muster, he said.

Fleenor’s arguments were met with skepticism, particularly an assertion that his office could find no case law asserting the Fifth Amendment is a “fundamental right” that can be subjected to strict scrutiny.

Monday’s 94-page opinion overruling the lower courts harkened back to a 2017 ruling inOlevik v. State, S17A0738,  that said forcing someone to take a breath test was unconstitutional.

Monday’s opinion, penned by Justice Nels Petersen, said Georgia’s Constitution actually goes beyond the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee against being forced to testify against oneself.

“Based on the well-established meaning given to the constitutional right against compelled self-incrimination and carried forward into subsequent state constitutions, we concluded that a breath test is an act incriminating in nature and, therefore, Paragraph XVI prohibits the State from compelling such a test,” according to the opinion.

Such evidence may not be introduced in a criminal trial, Petersen wrote, although he observed that the General Assembly may want to “revise the provisions of the implied consent law, particularly the content of the implied consent notice.”

Willis said he was encouraged by the justices’ strong reaction during oral arguments to the state’s suggestion that the Fifth Amendment may not be a fundamental right but also by the fact that it has no case law supporting its position.

“The argument really comes down to self-incrimination,” Willis said. “If you look at what the Fifth Amendment and Paragraph XVI protect, the rights are very similar. The state could not provide a single case under the Fifth Amendment or state Constitution where someone invoked their right prior to trial, and it was still submitted as evidence.”

“Whether it’s the right to not to blow into a machine, give a handwriting sample … they could not provide a single example,” he said. “They asked the court to reverse an unbroken line of cases back to 1879 and prior to that.”

The opinion noted that a blood or urine test can still be obtained if an officer gets a warrant, which happens “every day,” Willis said.

“I’m of the opinion that this implied consent warning should have been changed years ago,” Willis said.

“They need to take out that section about Georgia law ‘requiring’ you to submit,” he said. “You have a constitutional right to refuse testing.”

“I’m just proud of our Supreme Court for empowering the law as required,” he said.

Athens-Clarke County Solicitor Carroll Chisholm said officers there will adjust their procedure for DUI arrests accordingly.  

“Our local law enforcement will continue to enforce the DUI laws here in Athens-Clarke County,” said Chisholm in an email. 

“In light of the Elliott ruling, the only difference will be that officers will now read Implied Consent to request a blood test in all DUI cases instead of the previous practice of requesting breath tests in most DUI cases,” he said.

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.