A fatal auto accident in Houston has resulted in a civil lawsuit, but because the surviving driver refused to take a field sobriety test, he will not face criminal charges.
The 40-year-old Houston high school principal and his passenger were driving along U.S. Highway 290 on the evening of Sept. 11, when their Ford F-150 pickup truck struck an impact attenuator, a barrier also known as a “crash cushion” designed to reduce the damage to structures, vehicles and motorists resulting from a collision. Impact attenuators are designed to absorb the colliding vehicle's kinetic energy. However, instead of absorbing the vehicle's impact, the pickup was launched into the air and landed on the SUV driven by a 58-year-old Houston grandmother. The woman was killed, but the truck driver and his passenger walked away with minor injuries.
The woman's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the principal, but because police officers at the scene did not see signs of alcohol impairment, no criminal charges were brought against the truck driver. That could make the civil case more difficult to win.
When interviewed by police after the crash, the truck driver admitted to being at a bar earlier in the night, but he refused to take a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) test. Two Houston police officers at the scene said the driver did not look intoxicated. Even so, when the driver refused the field sobriety test, they called a county assistant district attorney to seek a warrant to compel the driver to take a blood test to determine his BAC. The attorney said there was “insufficient probable cause” for a warrant since the officers said the suspect did not appear drunk. The driver's attorney says construction hazards, not drunk driving, were responsible for the crash.
In some counties across the country, whenever there is a traffic fatality, a full investigation is done, including testing a driver's BAC. However, that is not the law in Harris County, which includes Houston. In Harris and other such counties, a determination of a person's sobriety can be based on the judgment of a law enforcement officer instead of a BAC test.
Washington State has an implied consent law, meaning refusal to take a BAC test can result in sanctions. Per the Revised Code of Washington, any person who operates a motor vehicle within the state is deemed to have given consent to a breath test to determine the alcohol concentration in his or her breath, provided the arresting officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person had been driving or was in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of liquor or drugs. If the driver refuses to take the test, his or her license, permit or privilege to drive will be revoked or denied for at least one year and the refusal to take the test may be used in a criminal trial.
A substantial number of drivers arrested for DUI refuse the BAC test, thereby reducing the likelihood that they will be convicted, according to the National Institutes of Health. There is strong evidence that refusing to take a BAC test significantly compromises the arrest, prosecution and sentencing of DUI suspects and the overall enforcement of DUI laws in the United States.
Everyone charged with a crime, regardless of the circumstances, is entitled to a good defense. If you are facing criminal charges, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.