Tag Archives: DUI collision

Habitual Drunk Driver Kills Wife in DUI Incident

Alcohol addiction was deadly for 53-year-old Robert Lee Ellis, of Columbus, Ohio, but not in the way you might think.

On October 16th of this year, Ellis was driving around a curve just outside of Columbus when he struck a utility pole. His 51-year-old passenger was pronounced dead at the scene. The passenger was his wife, Dawn Ellis. Neither were wearing seatbelts at the time of the collision.

Ellis’s blood alcohol content at the time was 0.185 percent. What’s more, officers learned that this was not Ellis’s first DUI incident. In fact, it was his 13th, and his driving suspension from a prior DUI was still in effect at the time.

“While investigating this fatal traffic crash it was very clear to investigators that Mr. Ellis is one of the worst habitual repeat offenders of drunk driving we have seen,” the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “He has no regard for human life continuing to be an extreme danger to the motoring public due to his criminal behavior of operating vehicle while impaired. It is further evidence in this case in which he caused the death of his wife while having a blood alcohol of .185, which is more than double the legal limit.”

On Monday, Ellis was indicted by a grand jury for aggravated vehicular homicide as a first degree felony, aggravated vehicular homicide as a second degree felony, and two counts of operating a vehicle under the influence as a third degree felony.

“I’m so happy he’s behind bars so he cannot put anyone else’s family through what he’s put us through,” Dawn Ellis’s daughter, Bobbi Spencer told NBC Columbus affiliate WCMH. “But it’s still never gonna [sic] take the pain away that he’s caused all of us.”

There is no question that Ellis should not have been driving or that he caused the loss of a life for which he must now pay a price. But focusing anger on what Ellis did alone ignores another sad truth; Ellis suffered from alcoholism and the system failed him and his wife.

This issue, on a number of occasions, has been discussed by both myself and Lawrence Taylor, who said the following in a post from way back in 2013 that remains true now.

Albert Einstein once famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again…and expecting different results”.

The simple fact is that most DUI-caused deaths are caused by a relatively small group of “problem drinkers”. These individuals are typically characterized by recidivism (repeat offenses), unusually high blood-alcohol levels — and alcoholism. And alcoholics are simply not deterred by criminal sanctions, any more than drug addicts are. By now, most experts recognize that alcoholism is a disease, not a choice. And you don’t treat a disease with incarceration. If you throw an alcoholic in jail for six months, on the day he walks out he will likely go to the first bar he finds and resume drinking. What has been accomplished? 

We recognize incapacity due to disease for such crimes as murder: the plea/verdict is “not guilty by reason of insanity”. The defendant is not simply set free, but is hospitalized for treatment of the disease. Why not treatment for drunk drivers who suffer from the disease of alcoholism?

Would you prefer to have a chronic drunk driver off the roads for a few months — or treated for his addiction?

Prescription Drug DUI

In late August, a Montebello police lieutenant was taken into custody in San Bernardino County on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. He had previously been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of prescription drugs, although charges were never filed. The arrest serves as a reminder that someone can be arrested for a California DUI with drugs, both illegal and legal.

On August 21st, Montebello Police Lt. Christopher Cervantes, 47, was arrested after police believe he rear-ended another car in the city of Montclair.

Neither Cervantes nor the other driver were injured in the collision, Cervantes was booked on suspicion of DUI at the San Bernardino County Jail, and he was subsequently placed on paid administrative leave.

In 2015, Cervantes was arrested following a collision with a tree in Diamond Bar. Although he tested positive for a combination of pain-relieving prescription drugs acetaminophen, butalbital, codeine, and morphine, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges citing a lack of evidence.

In 2011, Cervantes was detained after resisting arrest at a San Diego hotel party where he falsely claimed to police that he was a federal agent. Charges were never filed for this arrest either.

“I’m aware of everything in his personnel file and as I was the one who promoted him, I was confident that he was a great candidate for promotion to lieutenant,” said Montebello Police Chief Brad Keller. Cervantes was promoted by Keller after

 Cervantes’s 2015 arrest.

As a high-ranking police officer, Cervantes should have been acutely aware that a person can still be arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, including prescription drugs. Many people, on the other hand, often believe that a DUI can only occur if a driver has alcohol in their system. Some people believe that a DUI can occur with only alcohol or illegal drugs, and because a drug might be legal, whether prescription or over-the-counter, a driver cannot get a DUI if they have legal drugs in their system.

California Vehicle Code section 23152 (f) states, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

“Any drug” includes those that are illegal as well as legal, both prescription and over the counter.

The important consideration here is the phrase “under the influence.” Although, prescription drugs and other legal drugs fall within the definition of “any drug,” a person must also have his or her mental or physical abilities impaired to such a degree that he or she is unable to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person to be “under the influence.”

What kinds of medications can cause you to be under the influence? Tranquilizers, narcotic pain pills, sleep aids, antidepressants, cough medicines, antihistamines, and decongestants to name a few. And how might they cause you to be under the influence? Drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, and confusion, to name a few. Kind of sounds like being drunk, doesn’t it?

A few years back, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that almost half of people 70 years old and above take up to five medications per day. Additionally, a survey from the foundation found that 72% of people 55 and over, the demographic most likely to take medications for chronic conditions, had no idea that their driving performance could be affected by their prescription medications.

Remember, a DUI does not just mean driving under the influence of alcohol, or even illegal drugs, but all drugs including prescription and over-the-counter drugs. If it is capable of affecting a person’s driving ability, then it’s best to wait until after a driving excursion is over.

 

Massachusetts Fails to Process Out-Of-State Violations Including DUI

Many of us have heard the rumors of state agencies not being able to play nice with each other or failing to share important information through a central database as a way to more efficiently catch travelling criminals. Well, here is a story of an agency having received the information, but never utilizing it to its potential.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Registry of Motor Vehicles received, but never processed notifications that their Massachusetts drivers suffered out-of-state violations, including DUI.

Governor Charlie Baker was quoted, “The fact the RMV failed to act on information related to the driver responsible for this is deeply troubling and completely unacceptable.”

The unfortunate and sad part is that this lapse in process came to light as a result of the arrest of one Volodymyr Zhukovsky, who holds a Massachusetts commercial license and who was suspected of killing seven motorcyclists with his pickup truck and trailer in New Hampshire after crossing a double yellow line.

Zhukovsky was charged with operating under the influence and refusing to take a chemical test in Connecticut only a few months prior. The Massachusetts RMV was notified of the charge in May but never processed the incident which should have been enough to suspend his license. It was found that Zhukovsky also had drug and traffic related incidents on his record from six different states.

An internal review by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, though preliminary, found issues with the processes for out-of-state violations of both commercial and personal driver’s licenses.

Many of the commercial license violations are automated. However, unless the information is entered automatically in a very specific way, the information must be entered manually. In the recent months, no employee was tasked to handle the manual notifications. It was also discovered that the notices that were sent via mail by other states were sorted, but never processed. Thousands of notices were found in a records room and being stored a whopping 53 bins. The past week has already seen hundreds of alcohol-related offenses that were serious enough to trigger a suspension in Massachusetts.

As of July 1st, 655 new license suspensions had been processed, all alcohol-related violations, and more are expected as they continue to sift through the 53 bins of notifications.

It has been reported that the state is going to be running all Massachusetts driver’s licenses through a national database to make sure that all violations relating to that license are recorded in Massachusetts.

It is hard to imagine that no one caught on to the fact that the notifications were not being processed. In both the manual processing of electronic notifications, as well as the increasing pile of unsorted mail notifications, no one questioned anything.

In most circumstances, I imagine that the individuals who thought they lucked out in that their charge was never fully processed are going to see their insurance rates go up once the state’s records catch up to the most updated information. And this is quite minor in terms of consequences that are catching up to them. Unfortunately, there are those who we wished were processed earlier so as to prevent such tragedy as was the case with the seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire. Nothing will bring them back, but hopefully this incident will cause other agencies and other states to consider their current processes and make sure that their information is up to date and shared information is also taken into consideration and processed so as to prevent such fatalities in the future.

Pennsylvania Allows Public Input on New DUI Laws

The Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee held a hearing on Monday, May 13th, seeking public input on new DUI laws.

The hearing was motivated after a fatal DUI related crash in February. The crash occurred around 9:30 p.m. on February 16th, Deana and Chris Eckman were driving on Route 452 in Upper Chichester, when David Strowhouer’s pickup truck crossed a double yellow line and slammed head-on into their car.

Authorities report that Strowhouer’s blood alcohol level was 0.199 and there were traces of cocaine, diazepam, and marijuana in his system. Court records showed that Strowhouer suffered five prior DUI’s in the last nine years and was on probation at the time of the crash.

Senator Tom Killion, a member of the committee, addressed the hearing, “Since the accident, everyone has been asking the same questions. How could this happen? How could someone who had already had five DUI’s once again get behind the wheel while intoxicated and end someone’s life, and what can we do to prevent this from happening again?”

Deana’s parents had done their homework and came to the hearing with some of the state’s DUI related data. One of them being that the minimum sentences for repeat offenses remain at one year and early release on “good-time” credit is a normal occurrence. As in Strowhouer’s case, a 2017 DUI incident gave him both his fourth and fifth DUI’s. He was given a total sentence of 18 to 36 months in state prison as his sentences were concurrent, rather than consecutive. Strowhouer’s arrest following the crash with the Eckmans would be his sixth DUI.

Deana’s father, Richard DeRosa, stressed that real change can only come from technological changes to the system, such as the Driver Alcohol Detection System (DADSS) which works to immobilize the vehicle when it detects that the driver is over the 0.08 percent legal blood alcohol concentration limit. Others, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving representative Debbie D’Addona, suggested items such as the SCRAM continuous alcohol monitoring bracelet, which notifies law enforcement when those monitored imbibe.

According to Chris Demko of Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving, state statistics showed that 300 people are killed every year by drunk drivers in the state and that around 40% of that number involve repeat offenders.

Killion noted that there is a hope for more focus on repeat offenders with repeated high blood alcohol contents and that it was necessary to change the public perception of an initial DUI from “something that is not a big deal to a wake-up call.”

Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland was open to the idea of implementing more technology to monitor parolees and probationers, and assured that the ideas would be explored further, but also noted that the committee has made progress in the last few years.

The committee’s push for harsher penalties resulted in a new homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence law which carries a mandatory minimum seven-year prison sentence. Although it was small consolation to the family of the Eckmans, Strowhouer was the first person in Delaware County to be charged under the new law.

Copeland also suggested during the hearing that additional laws be enacted in the current session, such as increasing minimum penalties to two or more years for repeat third tier offenders and removing the possibility for early release for repeat offenders.

Given Pennsylvania’s current statistical profile when it comes to DUI’s, it’s no wonder many in the public believe DUI offenders, including repeat offenders, are getting the benefit of the doubt. While I am all for giving someone a second chance, at some point it must be acknowledged that a problem exists when a person suffers multiple DUI offenses with a particularly high blood alcohol content.

Thus, several questions are begged: How do lawmakers address the problem of repeat DUI offenders? Do they punish more severely with the hope of a deterrent effect? Or do they try to keep drunk drivers off the road from the get-go?

DeRosa and D’Addona’s wish to implement more technology also comes with a price, literally. Those items are costly. Will the offenders be able to pay for them? DeRosa suggested during the hearing that Pennsylvania start requiring all new vehicles have the DADSS system installed. That’s nice, but not all of these offenders will be driving a brand-new car. Someone who is driving a 30-year-old clunker is just as likely to have too much to drink.

Pomona Man Charged with Murder for DUI that Killed 6-Year-Old

Last week, Franky Provencio, 19 and from Pomona, was arrested for murder amongst other charges after it was suspected that he drove drunk, collided with another vehicle, and killed the six-year-old passenger of the other vehicle.

On Tuesday of last week, Provencio veered his GMC Yukon into oncoming traffic on White Avenue in Pomona and collided with a pickup truck. The pickup truck, driven by Peter George of Upland, was also carrying his six-year-old son, Julian Anthony George. While Peter George was hospitalized in critical condition, Julian Anthony George was pronounced dead at the scene. Provencio and his passenger were also hospitalized, although the passenger was released shortly thereafter.

Officers responding to the scene determined that Provencio was under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Officers also determined that George had been drinking prior to the collision. Julian was not properly secured in a child seat.

Provencio was found to have suffered a prior DUI conviction from last year that he was still on probation for. Additionally, Provencio was driving on a suspended license.

Provencio was arrested after he was released from the hospital late last week and now faces charges of murder, DUI causing great bodily injury, and possession of a controlled substance. He is being held on $2.63 million at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles.

While the crime of murder is generally reserved for people who intend on killing another person, California has created an exception that allows prosecutors to charge murder for DUI-related collisions that kill someone else if the suspect has suffered a prior DUI conviction.

Prior to 1981, a person who killed someone while driving under the influence could not be charged and convicted of murder. However, the landmark case of People v. Watson changed that.

California Penal Code section 187(a) provides that “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being…with malice aforethought.” “Malice” refers to the deliberate intention to unlawfully kill someone else. However, malice can be also be “implied” and implied malice exists when a person knowingly engages in an act that is dangerous to human life and they engage the act with a conscious disregard for human life.

The court in the Watson case found that if the facts surrounding a DUI-related fatality support a finding of “implied malice,” second degree murder can be charged. In other words, if a person engages in driving under the influence when they know that it is dangerous to human life to do so, and they kill someone, they can be charged with murder.  

Now the question becomes, “Did the person know it was dangerous to human life to drive drunk?”

While we all know that it’s dangerous to drive drunk, since Watson, courts started expressly advising people who have been convicted of DUI, on the record, that it is, in fact, dangerous to drive drunk. This was not because the court actually thought that the defendant didn’t know it, but rather to ensure that the prosecutor could charge murder instead of manslaughter upon a subsequent DUI causing the death of someone.

Having handled hundreds of DUI cases myself in Los Angeles County, I can tell you almost positively that Provencio was told the “Watson advisement” by the judge while being convicted in his first DUI case, or at a minimum signed a document acknowledging the “Watson advisement,” or both.

Provencio is due at the Pomona Courthouse on June 5th.