Signs of intoxication would have been apparent, GJ attorney says
A Grand Junction attorney who specializes in drunken-driving laws and civil cases says he would expect someone with a blood-alcohol level equal to that of an 18-year-old Grand Junction woman who died in a car accident earlier this month would show obvious signs of intoxication.
Samantha Loy died early on the morning of Feb. 8 after being ejected from her car on eastbound Interstate 70 between Fruita and Grand Junction. An autopsy revealed she had a blood-alcohol level of 0.195, more than twice the legal limit for a driver in Colorado.
Fruita police officer Nick Peck had stopped Loy for two traffic violations about 10 minutes before the crash. But he wrote in a report that he didn’t see any indicators that she had been drinking.
But Andrew Nolan, an attorney who both defends people charged with driving drunk and pursues civil cases on behalf of a person injured or killed by a drunken driver, said Wednesday the effects of alcohol are more pronounced in someone at Loy’s age and who likely had a low level of alcohol tolerance.
“At .195, I would expect somebody her age would be extremely intoxicated and not able to walk without staggering. (They would) definitely have slurred speech,” said Nolan, a member of the National College for DUI Defense.
He said a person with a blood-alcohol level in the neighborhood of 0.2 could be physically ill.
“You’re starting to get into the possibility of loss of consciousness,” he said.
Nolan noted Colorado has a virtual no-tolerance policy with people younger than 21 who drink and drive. Under state law, an adult driver can be charged with driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08. That DUI threshold drops to 0.02 for underage drinkers, he said.
Nolan said police officers looking for signs of intoxication in someone would check for things like an odor of alcohol on the person’s breath, slurred speech and diminished motor skills. He said bloodshot and watery eyes, long accepted as a common symptom of intoxication, has recently come under a lot of scrutiny as to whether it’s a reliable indicator.
“It’s a sign that’s been overused,” Nolan said.
He said there is no single sign that is conclusive as to whether a person is intoxicated and that it’s easy to miss a sign in certain situations. For example, he said, it’s more difficult to detect an odor of alcohol in cold weather.
Nolan also pointed out officers have to balance their duties with a private citizen’s constitutional right to not be detained unlawfully.
“They can’t just walk up to someone and say, ‘Get out of the car, I want to check you for impairment,’ ” Nolan said.
“I’m sure a lot of people get pulled over or get contacted by officers (and) are actually under the influence, and it’s not detected,” he said. “I’m sure it happens all the time.”