Utah Police Chief Arrested for Prescription Drug DUI

A Utah police chief was arrested for prescription drug DUI after a highway patrol officer observed the chief driving recklessly north of the town of Manua.

Reckless driving

Photo by: BitterScripts

On a late January evening, Utah Highway Patrol trooper Kent Goodrich observed a Manua police vehicle driving at a high rate of speed down the median of Highway 89. Goodrich pulled the other police vehicle over and noted the driver, 49 year old Manua Police Chief Shane Zilles appeared to be inebriated. Zilles was cooperative, yet failed a field sobriety test and struggled answering simple questions being asked him as of him. Trooper Goodrich arrested Zilles as he was notably impaired and should not have been on the road putting other people and himself in danger.

Prescription Drug DUI

Zilles inability to pass the field test pointed to him likely being impaired by either alcohol or drugs. Although Zilles appeared to be intoxicated, there was no alcohol detected through a breathalyzer and a tox screen for street drugs came back negative as well. It was determined however that Zilles had not been drinking or using street drugs, yet he had consumed prescription drugs sometime prior to getting behind the wheel of the police cruiser. He was cited for prescription drug DUI and reckless driving.

Class B misdemeanor

Taking prescription drugs is not against the law if taken by the person to whom it is prescribed. It is unlawful however to drive after taking medication if it impairs the person’s ability to drive safely. Utah Code 41-6a-502 states “A person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state if the person:

• . . . 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”.

Section 41-6a-504 warns that “The fact that a person charged with violating section 41-6a-502 is or has been legally entitled to use alcohol or a drug is not a defense against any charge of violating [said section]. Even if the prescription if legal and valid, driving under the influence of prescription drugs that cause impairment is a class B misdemeanor as noted in section 41-6a-503. That DUI charge could be enhanced to a class A misdemeanor or third degree felony if there was bodily injury as a result of an accident or a minor passenger in the vehicle.

Medication side-effects

As a law enforcement officer, Zilles should have known better than to drive impaired. When alcohol or street drugs are involved, impairment is expected. Prescription drugs however could cause impairment that is unknown to the user. Regarding Zilles, there is some information that hasn’t been released yet:

• what type of prescription drugs he was taking; and
• Whether or not it was a new prescription or something he had experience taking and therefore would have known the side effects.

While there are some medications that are known to cause drowsiness and reduced ability to drive such as sleeping pills or narcotic pain meds, others can catch a person off guard by how much they affect their capability to drive safely. It is important to read the labels and all included paperwork with new medications to see if driving impairment is a possibility. If there is any doubt on whether or not impairment could be a factor when taking a prescription medication, drivers are urged to use caution and refrain from driving if possible. Anyone facing charges related to prescription drug DUI are encouraged to seek counsel from an experience attorney.

Utah Celebrates the New Year as Reduced BAC Limit Officially Goes into Effect

Just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve, Utah’s reduced BAC limit officially went into effect Sunday, but surprisingly did not result in an uptick of DUI arrests.

Drinking holiday

Photo by: BluEyedA73

New Year’s Eve is known for being a holiday that many spend intoxicated, whether through pounding beers with friends or sipping champagne at a party as the countdown to the New Year befalls. This holiday is so widely centered on alcohol that organizations such as AAA was offering those who were inebriated a free ride home for them and their vehicle in order to help reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road after midnight. Utah had its own way of getting ready for the holiday however, as the new reduced BAC limit went into effect a day prior to the festivities.

Utah’s reduced BAC limit

Utah’s new reduced BAC limit, or the legal limit of blood-alcohol content for drivers in Utah was set into motion in early 2017, amid protests from residents and businesses. Regardless of the backlash from the community, Utah lawmakers passed the new BAC limit with it going into effect December 30, 2018. Utah Code 41-6a-502 now states “A person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state if the person:

(a) Has sufficient alcohol in the person’s body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater at the time of the test;

(b) 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

(c) Has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater at the time of operation or actual physical control.”

Prior to the legal change of the allowable blood-alcohol content, Utah’s limits matched those around the county set at .08 grams. Now Utah has one of the lowest tolerances for alcohol use before driving than any other in the country.

When is “one too many”?

Photo by: Jeffrey Smith

While everyone can agree that drunk driving is a dangerous activity that kills hundreds of people each year, many Utah residents still scoff at the reduced BAC limit. Many of those who are upset at the new law are those who would like to legally enjoy a couple drinks with dinner or after work without worrying about finding a designated driver. One problem with the occasional social drink however, is the drastic difference in how it could affect each individual person and whether it could lead to “one too many” drinks before hitting the road. One shot of whiskey or a single glass of wine may have been okay for some without their BAC rising about .08. Others though become incapable of merely walking a straight line to their car, their BAC increased to a limit too dangerous to drive. Factors such as gender, weight, and stomach contents come into play which can dramatically change who gets buzzed and who doesn’t.

Taking no chances

In its own obnoxious way, Utah’s reduced BAC limit may be beneficial as it makes everyone a little more cautious before hitting the roads. Instead of Utah residents wondering if that glass of champagne went straight to their head or not, anyone who drinks can just assume they may come up over the new reduced BAC limit and plan accordingly. After mere hours after being put into effect, this way of further separating drinking from driving might already be working. Only 11 DUI related arrests were reported by UHP during New Year’s Eve this year compared to nearly 50 last year. Perhaps this increased intolerance can help further lower the number of Utahans killed each year by those who should not have been behind the wheel. For those who feel they have been treated unfairly according to this new law, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss options moving forward.

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.