Drivers high on 'ice' worry police
|||Commentary: Concerted effort needed to fight 'ice'|
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
Crystal methamphetamine is the second leading drug found in O'ahu motorists convicted of drugged driving last year. Prosecutors say that for the first time on O'ahu, the drug has been linked to a traffic fatality a crash that killed an 11-year-old girl in 2000.
Last year, 34 O'ahu drivers were convicted of driving under the influence of drugs, with 17 motorists testing positive for marijuana and seven testing positive for crystal meth, said Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor David Sandler.
Police believe that other drugged drivers are avoiding arrests because not all officers are trained to recognize the symptoms of drug impairment. The Honolulu Police Department has about 35 officers who have been trained and certified as drug recognition experts, said Sgt. Ryan Nishibun, who oversees their program.
"Our concern is that if officers aren't trained to recognize drug impairment if they give them a field sobriety test on the road, and the guy blows zeros (on the alcohol test), or he blows real low, they're going to cut him loose, when in fact this guy may be under the influence of drugs," Nishibun said.
Since the 1997 inception of the program for drug recognition experts, Nishibun said, police have arrested about 200 motorists suspected of driving under the influence of drugs. He said police arrested 50 motorists suspected of drugged driving in 2001 compared to 43 in 2000.
Next month, a man will go on trial on a charge of manslaughter for allegedly driving under the influence of crystal meth and valium in a one-car crash near Waipi'o that killed his 11-year-old passenger on Oct. 8, 2000.
Sandler said the death has been the first O'ahu traffic fatality involving a motorist suspected of driving under the influence of crystal meth, commonly known as "ice."
The driver, Danny Gormon, is scheduled to stand trial before Circuit Judge Victoria Marks in the week of Sept. 16.
Deputy Prosecutor Keith Seto, who is handling the case, said Gormon was traveling south on H-2, weaving in and out of traffic on a wet roadway. According to Seto, witnesses said Gormon's car was traveling between 90 and 100 mph.
Gormon swerved in front of a car near the Ka Uka Boulevard Overpass, lost control of his car and hit a dirt berm, Seto said. Gormon's car went airborne and Jasey Delos Reyes, of Kalihi, was ejected from the back seat.
The car landed on the other side of H-2. The girl died from the impact, according to Seto, and her mother, 39, a front passenger, suffered a severed finger. Gormon's injuries were minor.
Seto said a drug test revealed that Gormon had crystal meth and valium in his system.
Walter Rodby, Gormon's public defender, called the manslaughter charge too harsh and said Gormon has no history of driving under the influence and no criminal record.
"Mr. Gormon is ready to take responsibility for the death of the child," Rodby said. But "legally speaking," he said, the manslaughter charge is unjustified.
Under Hawai'i law, manslaughter is defined as recklessly causing the death of a person. It carries a maximum 20-year prison term.
Drivers in traffic fatalities have also been prosecuted with the charge of first-degree negligent homicide, which involves a person driving negligently under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The charge carries a maximum 10-year term.
To be charged with manslaughter, Rodby said, there should be an awareness on the part of the motorist that someone would die while he keeps on driving.
"You have to recklessly disregard the risk that someone will die," Rodby said.
In other words, Rodby said, Gormon would have to be thinking "she can die, but I don't care."
"That is not the case," Rodby said. "He's heartbroken."
At most, Gormon's public defender said, the case would involve first-degree negligent homicide.
Gormon posted $70,000 bail and moved to Utah, according to Rodby, who also said his client is retired from the Air National Guard and was taking the doctor-prescribed valium to ease a painful condition. Rodby said experts are still investigating whether Gormon had crystal meth in his system.
Sandler, the deputy prosecutor, said motorists driving under the influence of drugs have been known to hit parked vehicles or cars waiting at a red light. He said motorists who drive under the influence of crystal meth are "unable to concentrate on driving" and hit big stationary objects. He said one driver crashed into a fast-food restaurant.
Nishibun estimated that the cars of 40 to 50 percent of drivers arrested on suspicion of drugged driving contain evidence like glass pipes.
Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who has vowed to get tough with drugged drivers, said he considers all impaired drivers to be a "massive, massive danger to the community."