Utah Dump Truck Driver Arrested for DUI and Six Counts of Automobile Homicide

A driver of a dump truck carrying a load of dirt was arrested for a DUI and six counts of automobile homicide after a horrifying accident near Jordanelle Reservoir in Utah on Friday.

Fatal accident on Highway 40

41 year old Jamie Don McKenzie was driving a dump truck on U.S. Highway 40 near Jordanelle Reservior when he crossed the median and struck a pickup truck that was going the opposite direction. After hitting the pickup, the dump truck McKenzie was driving continued, finally coming to rest on top of the pickup truck’s hood. The pickup was carrying 6 men, 5 of which were workers from Honduras. Three of the men were thrown from the pickup up during the accident and the other three remained in the cab of the truck as it was crushed by the weight of the dump truck. All six men in the pickup died on impact. McKenzie, the driver of the dump truck survived.

Alcohol, pills and driving don’t mix

All signs point to McKenzie being under the influence when he crashed his pickup truck. Inside the truck that McKenzie was driving, investigators found open containers of alcohol and prescription medication. Officers attending to the accident could smell alcohol on McKenzie’s breath while getting his statement. Prior to the accident, other drivers had called dispatch to report the dump truck as driving erratically, swerving all over the highway at a high rate of speed while dangerously cutting in front of other drivers. McKenzie was arrested and booked on multiple charges including DUI six counts of automobile homicide.

Automobile homicide

Utah Code 76-5-207 states: “Criminal homicide is automobile homicide, a third degree felony, if the person operates a motor vehicle in a negligent manner causing the death of another and:

(i) Has sufficient alcohol in his body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08 grams or greater at the time of the test;
(ii) Is under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle; or
(iii) Has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08 grams or greater at the time of operation.”

Negligent or criminally negligent

That section goes on to note that if a person is found to have been operating a motor vehicle in a “criminally negligent manner” when they caused the death of another, they charges are then increased to a second degree felony. According to section 76-2-103, “A person engages is conduct . . . with criminal negligence or is criminally negligent with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise in all circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”

Prior history and reckless driving

Not only was McKenzie found to have been driving under the influence at the time of the crash, he had a lengthy history of mixing alcohol and driving. Additionally, McKenzie’s behavior while driving appeared to be at a complete disregard for the safety of the others around him. Whether or not that was due to his drunken state or his driving style is up for interpretation. Due to his history and the gruesome details of the crash, he could face decades behind bars.

DUI Arrests in Utah May Result in Ignition Interlock Device

When an individual in Utah is arrested for a DUI, they may end up sporting an ignition interlock device in their car to keep tabs on them and prevent them from reoffending.

DUI Charges

Photo by:
Sonny Abesamis

Utah is soon to be the strictest state in regards to driving intoxicated when the BAC limit is lowered to .05% next December. When that occurs, anyone with a smidgeon of alcohol on their breath could face 48 hours in jail and a fine of $700 along with other screening and possible classes. Others, including those with subsequent offenses, minors, or those with high a high BAC may face greater challenges including loss of driver’s licenses and expensive ignition interlock devices.

Ignition interlock

An ignition interlock is an expensive device that is installed in a defendant’s vehicle for a determined amount of time following a DUI charge where according to Utah Code 41-6a-505 “there is admissible evidence that the person had a blood alcohol level of .16 or higher”. Ignition interlock devices may also be ordered by the courts if the driver was under the age limit to legally consume alcohol, repeat offenders, or for those who caused injury or death while driving intoxicated. ignition interlock is a built in breathalyzer, requiring drivers to blow into it to be able to start their vehicle. If the ignition interlock detects alcohol, it will not allow the vehicle to be started.

Record and report

Last year alone, ignition interlock devices were credited with stopping over 2,500 individuals from driving while intoxicated. Ignition interlocks do more than prevent a person from driving while intoxicated however. When the device detects alcohol, it electronically stores that information and shares it with the courts which could put a person in violation of their probation. Those who are facing a DUI charge or a probation violation after a failed attempt with an ignition interlock are encouraged to immediately seek counsel with an attorney to receive legal advice in how to proceed with their case.

Strict DUI Laws Not Needed in Arrest of Intoxicated Officer

An officer with the Utah Department of Public Safety was arrested for driving intoxicated and Utah’s strict DUI laws were not needed in this case.

Concerned fellow drivers

Photo by: Ken Lund

Photo by: Ken Lund

A Utah High Patrol trooper pulled over a vehicle north of Panguitch Utah after numerous calls from concerned drivers all reported the vehicle driving erratically. The driver of the car was 35 year old Jason James Whitehead, an armed public safety officer who was more than halfway through his journey from Ogden Utah to Lake Powell for training. Local county officers called to assist noted a bottle of Vodka on the front passenger seat that was halfway empty.

Failed field sobriety tests

Whitehead was arrested for DUI, open container, and carrying a weapon while intoxicated.  Whitehead not only failed his field sobriety tests prior to his arrest, he was barely able to carry on a conversation or walk around on his own. Police reports do not indicate whether a breathalyzer was used to check if Whitehead was legally considered driving intoxicated. From the sound of the situation however, Whitehead was far from being a possible victim of Utah’s new strict DUI laws .

Strict DUI laws of Utah

Strict DUI Laws

(Edited) Photo by: Mark Goebel

The State of Utah has been receiving considerable backlash lately for its strict DUI laws that many deem unfair compared to the rest of the nation. This public outcry comes on the heels of a bill passed to lower the BAC limit in Utah to.05% which is .03% less than everywhere else in the nation who stand at .08%. This lowered BAC limit is set to become law in Utah at the end of 2018. Numerous residents of Utah are opposed to Utah’s strict DUI laws, accusing lawmakers of making money off the social (non-religious) drinker and preying on those visiting from other states who are oblivious to the strict DUI laws. Business owners in Utah such as restaurants and bars are also lamenting the lowered BAC limit as they are likely to be hit financially with the lack of revenue from lowered alcohol sales.

Go for the big fish

While the general public is grateful when a dangerously intoxicated driver such as Officer Whitehead is removed from the road, few residents want or expect every individual who enjoyed a drink with lunch to end up facing criminal charges. This does not strike the majority of people as an appropriate way to spend taxpayer dollars or how an officer should “discharge the duties of [their] office with fidelity”. For more information on Utah’s strict DUI laws or for legal counsel regarding criminal charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.