Category Archives: Current Events

Suspect in Fatal 2019 DUI Crash Faces 15 Years in Prison

Chelsea Annmarie Stiles, 27, was convicted of vehicular manslaughter in a DUI crash that left an elderly man dead in 2019 in San Luis Obispo, California. This week, District Attorney Dan Dow announced that Stiles has been sentenced to  serve 15 years and eight months in state prison.

In December 2020, the San Louis Obispo County jury convicted Stiles of numerous offenses. However, after several days of deliberation, the jury was initially unable to reach an unanimous verdict on the most serious charge—murder. Stiles was convicted of  the following felonies: gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of a drug causing death, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon using an automobile, fleeing the scene of a vehicle collision causing injury, child abuse, and a misdemeanor possession of cocaine.

The deadly crash sequence occurred on December 1, 2019 at approximately 6:00 p.m. on Highway 227. According to investigative reports, Stiles, while under the influence of cocaine, seemingly lost control of her vehicle and rear-ended an automobile carrying a family of four at over 70 miles per hour, disabling the vehicle as a result. Moments later, Stiles inexplicably drove into the opposite lane and struck a 77-year-old San Luis Obispo man identified as Terry Tilton head on at 68 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the impact of collision was severe and killed Tilton instantly. Stiles’s 18-month old daughter and her two dogs were also in her vehicle at the time of both collisions.

Stiles suffered from moderate injuries and was taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment along with her young daughter who thankfully only sustained minor injuries.

During trial, court testimonies suggested that prior to the deadly crash, Stiles cut her daughter’s scheduled visitation with the father short. The father told investigators that Stiles’ strangely aggressive behavior lead him to believe that she was under the influence of drugs.

A CHP officer Trevor Ashton testified that Stiles was generally incoherent as she was being transported into the ambulance. At the hospital, Stiles admitted to intentionally crashing her vehicle into the two cars she hit but gave no explanation as to why.

AUTO BREWERY SYNDROME

In 2016, an upstate New York woman she blew a blood alcohol level more than four times the legal limit and was charged with a DUI. However, the a judge dismissed the charges after being presented with evidence the woman suffers from “auto-brewery syndrome.”

“I had never heard of auto-brewery syndrome before this case,” her attorney told CNN. “But I knew something was amiss when the hospital police wanted to release her immediately because she wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms.”

“That prompts me to get on the Internet and see if there is any sort of explanation for a weird reading,” adds her her attorney. “Up pops auto-brewery syndrome and away we go.”

“I’m in touch with about 30 people who believe they have this same syndrome, about 10 of them are diagnosed with it,” said Panola College Dean of Nursing Barbara Cordell, who has studied the syndrome for years. “They can function at alcohol levels such as 0.30 and 0.40 when the average person would be comatose or dying. Part of the mystery of this syndrome is how they can have these extremely high levels and still be walking around and talking.”

Auto-brewery syndrome is a very rare condition.  People who have auto-brewery syndrome register abnormally high blood alcohol levels, even if they consume no alcohol. Crohn’s disease, liver problems, poor nutrition, antibiotics, inflammatory bowel disease,  low immune system, diabetes are all believed to cause auto brewery syndrome. Symptoms can sometimes include moodiness, confusion, difficulty focusing, lack of physical coordination, and memory problems.

When people suffer from this disorder, their bodies makes alcohol out of carbs they eat. This happens insides the gut or intestines. It may be caused by too much yeast in the gut. Yeast is a fungus. Some kinds of yeast that might cause this disorder are

  • Candida albicans
  • Candida glabrata
  • Torulopsis glabrata
  • Candida krusei
  • Candida kefyr
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae 

The syndrome was first discovered in 1912. It was then called “germ carbohydrate fermentation.” It was studied in the 1930s and ‘40s as a contributing factor to vitamin deficiencies and irritable bowel syndrome. Right now, there’s no criteria to diagnose or even treat auto-brewery syndrome making it even harder to tell when patients have the disorder. 

The auto-brewery syndrome might lead to a DUI arrest since it causes patients to have a breath or blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit even though no alcoholic beverage was consumed. However, it can be used as a defense to a DUI charge.

California Vehicle Code 23152 (a) states: It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle. Someone with auto brewery system cannot be convicted of violating this statute because they have not consumed any alcoholic beverage.

California Vehicle Code 23152(b) states: It is unlawful for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle. It doesn’t mention the defendant’s BAC needs to be due to actually having consumed an alcoholic beverage. However, involuntary intoxication can be used as a defense to this crime. If someone has not consumed any alcoholic beverages, the defendant’s intoxication was involuntary just as if they were drugged.

Defense would have to use expert testimony to prove to the court that the disorder is valid, the defendant’s medical records that the defendant has the disorder and present evidence that it contributed to the DUI offense.

If you have been arrested for a DUI offense, immediately hire an attorney. If you believe you might suffer from auto brewery syndrome, it is crucial that you discuss with your attorney.

COVID-19 AND DUIs

Since government stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns, there has been a significant drop in the number of cars on the road. If you think this has led to a significant decline in the number of DUIs, you’re right. Data from local and state agencies show showed DUI arrests have decreased significantly since the pandemic arrived. There has been a 42% decrease in DUI rates in California post-pandemic. However, while DUIs have decreased, substance abuse has increased.

The pandemic has caused many Americans to:

-Be isolated from their friends and family

-Fear and worry about their health and the health of their loved ones

-Lose their job or fear losing their job

-Lose the support services they rely on

This has lead to changes in sleep and/or eating patterns, difficulty concentrating and functioning, and worsening of chronic health problems which leads to depression and anxiety and increased substance abuse. Those who already struggle with alcoholism and addiction are at even higher risks of substance abuse during these difficult times.

“I would definitely say the depression, the anxiety, the uncertainty, the loneliness, the isolation, all of those factors aren’t good for mental health,” Sheila Vakharia, deputy director of research and academic engagement at Drug Policy Alliance, told Yahoo Finance. “What we do when we’re feeling that way is that sometimes we shut down, but sometimes we reach out in different ways to cope. Reaching out to your drug of choice, whatever that might be, is one strategy.”

“A lot of this depression and anxiety is also related to the fact that people have lost their jobs,” Vakharia said. “We’ve got unprecedented rates of unemployment, employment instability, the loss of benefits, or other things that your business might do to employees to stay open. I think people do things to cope with the circumstances that they’re in. People are struggling with all these other forms of instability and confusion and lack of information from the top down about what’s going on, when we’re going to get out of this, what they can expect, and how to stay safe.”

In April of this year, one-third of Americans couldn’t make their rent payments. While there’s no comprehensive date, many states report sharp upticks in homeschooling. The unemployment rate stood at 6.7 percent in December, well above pre-pandemic levels of 3.5 percent.

“Are you supposed to be happy when you lose your job?” Ms. Vakharia goes on to say. “Or when your kids are at home and you can’t make ends meet?”

According to the CDC, there were over 81,000 deaths from substance abuse in America in the 12 months ending in May 2020. That the highest number of deaths from substance abuse ever recorded in a 12-month period. According to the market research by Nielsen, online sales of alcohol rose to 234 percent in March of this year compared to March of last year. In-store purchases of tequila, gin, and pre-mixed cocktails increased to 75 percent. Wine sales soared to 66 percent. Beer sales rose to 42 percent.

If you are struggling with a mental health condition such as depression and anxiety, please do not resort drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. This will only create more problems for yourself and your loved ones. Instead, please consider these healthy tips on how to cope:

-Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Constantly hearing about the pandemic can be stressful.

-Go for a run or a hike.

-Take deep breaths, stretch, or do yoga.

-Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.

-Exercise regularly.

-Get plenty of sleep.

-Avoid alcohol and drug use.

-Make time to unwind. Try to do activities you enjoy.

-Take time to journal.

-Make a list of things that you are grateful for.

-Make a list of songs that put you in a positive mood and listen to them when you are down.

-Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

-Do something kind for someone, such as posting a kind comment on someone’s social media page.

-Connect with your community or faith-based organizations via online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

-Another way to cope with depression is to focus on the 5 P’s: 1) People- connect with the right people whom you trust, who make you happy, and who can provide support; 2) Physical Needs- be sure to get enough sleep, eat right and exercise; often we neglect our physical needs when we are depressed and this only increases the depression; 3) Purpose- recognize that we are all put on this planet for a purpose. Find an activity that makes you connect with your life purpose and gives your life an sense of meaning such as joining a community service organization; 4) Positive outlook- recognize that pain is gain and any challenge is just an opportunity for personal growth; and 5) Power- recognize that you have the power to overcome any challenge that comes your way.

-Lastly, know you are not alone and there is help if you need it. Here are a few resources if you are considering harming yourself:

– National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

– Crisis Text Line: Text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message

– NAMI HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 am to 6 pm, ET

This Coronavirus pandemic shall pass and you have the power to overcome anything that comes your way. Stay strong.

If you end up abusing alcohol or drugs and are caught committing a DUI, please contact an attorney as soon as possible.

HOW A LOW-CARB DIET CAN LEAD TO A DUI

Low-carb diets -such as the Atkins diet or the Ketogenic diet- have been around for decades. Nonetheless, this type of diet can cause problems for California drivers. It may cause a breath test provided by a California driver who was pulled over or arrested on suspicion of a DUI to falsely show the presence of alcohol – even if the driver had not consumed any alcohol that day.

Here’s how: A low-carb diet deprives the body of glucose, an important source of fuel for the body. In the absence of this source of fuel, the body turns to its fat for fuel. The process of turning fat into fuel produces ketones. When the body produces ketones and uses them for fuel, the body is in a state of ketosis. When the body is in a state of ketosis, ketones can be detected in that person’s breath. (This explains the bad breath that some report while on a low-carb diet). These ketones have a chemical composition similar to isopropyl alcohol. Many breathalyzer testing devices cannot distinguish between isopropyl alcohol molecules and ethyl alcohol molecules.  As such, a breath testing machine used in a DUI investigation may falsely detect the presence of alcohol simply because the suspect is on a low-carb diet.

It is doubtful that the amount of ketones in anyone’s breath could be sufficient to result in a breath test result showing a blood alcohol concentration at or greater than the .08% legal limit without the person having had consumed some alcohol. However, a person who would have otherwise been below the .08% legal limit may end up with a breath test result at or greater than the legal limit if that person is in ketosis. For example, someone who is in ketosis and has a true blood alcohol concentration of .06% could potentially register at 0.08% or more.

California Vehicle Code 23612(a)(2)(A) allows drivers arrested for suspicion of a DUI to choose between submitting to a breath test or a blood test. Unless the chosen test is not available, the officer must perform the test selected by the driver. Drivers on a low-carb diet may want to avoid submitting to the breath test to avoid being stuck with a false positive result.

Any driver arrested for a DUI should immediately hire an attorney. If you are on a low-carb diet, it is crucial that you tell your attorney.

Murder Charge Dropped for DUI Boater

On July 5th of this year, Juan Francisco Moreno Herrera, 43 of Salida, California, was arrested on suspicion of murder after a collision between Herrera’s boat and a jet ski carrying a couple of teenagers. It was alleged that Herrera was operating his boat under the influence and, as a result, collided Vanessa Zamora, 14, of Watsonville, California, killing her and causing injuries to her 15-year-old cousin. Prosecutors also charged Herrera with two felony counts of driving a boat under the influence of alcohol.

Initially, according to prosecutors, Herrera caused the injuries to the girls because he was driving “his boat around in circles and did not attempt” to help either injured girl in the water following the collision.  

Under California Law, a DUI resulting in death will be charged as manslaughter if the driver has not suffered any prior DUI-related convictions. If, however, the driver has suffered a prior DUI-related conviction, they will likely be charged with second degree murder under California’s “Watson Murder Rule.” Under Watson, the California Supreme allowed murder to be charged in a subsequent DUI resulting in death because the driver was made aware of the dangers of drunk driving after having been sentenced on the prior DUI. It is almost as if the court is saying, “We warned you, you did it anyways, and now look at what happened.”

Herrera had been convicted of a DUI in the past, which allowed prosecutors to charge murder. As a result, Herrera had been in jail since his arrest, unable to afford the $2 million bail bond.

Kirk McAllister, Herrera’s attorney, however, believed the allegations to be false and his law firm conducted its own investigation into the collision.

Following McAllister’s investigation, it was learned that the girls had, in fact, collided into Herrera, not the other way around. What’s more, Herrera did, in fact, jump into the water to help Vanessa’s cousin stay afloat.

McAllister’s findings directly contradicted an affidavit filed by the Sheriff’s department alleging that “two independent witnesses” said that Herrera was driving his boat in circles and did not render aid. The affidavit, however, failed to identify the witnesses, and the sheriff’s department has refused to answer questions about the accuracy of the affidavit.

“What our investigation showed was that in fact they ran into him. In boating terms, he had the right of way. They hit him on the port side, or the left side. … He did the right thing, he powered down (the boat),” said McAllister to the Modesto Bee. “He had a terrible choice to make: One girl was not moving, the other girl was flailing in the water. He chose the one who was flailing because she was showing signs of life, obviously. He kept her afloat until another boat came.”

McAllister’s findings were submitted to the Stanislaus County District Attorney, and last month, the prosecution dropped the felony DUI charges and murder charge. Michael Scheid, the prosecutor assigned to the case, filed an amended complaint against Herrera alleging only misdemeanor boating under the influence charges.

Although the result might not sit well with some readers, the law requires it.

As the District Attorney’s Office itself recognizes, “[i]t is not enough to prove that someone who drank alcohol and was piloting a boat got involved in a collision where someone died,” said John Goold, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office.

By law the prosecution must prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, and one element to the crime of second degree murder via DUI (or BUI) is that Herrera “did an act or neglected any duty imposed by law…which act or neglect proximately caused the bodily injury.” Based on McAllister’s investigation, Herrera simply did not.

“In this case, ongoing investigation led us to the inescapable conclusion that we could not prove all the elements beyond a reasonable doubt, which led to the filing of the amended complaint,” said Goold rightly so.

Following the amended complaint and dropping of charges, Herrera was released from custody on his own recognizance.

“I was in hell; that’s hell in there,” Herrera said following his release, recalling his time in jail awaiting prosecution. “Just thinking about my family. What was going to become of my kids and myself? Being in there for something that I didn’t do.”

Go ahead and ask Juan Francisco Moreno Herrera whether it’s a good idea to hire a criminal defense attorney when facing California DUI charges. In his case, it was the difference between a misdemeanor DUI and a murder.

Herrera still faces those misdemeanor DUI charges and expected in court this month.