Driver previously guilty of crossing double-yellow line, faced other charges in past, ECM investigation reveals
By Miriam Raftery
August 12, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) -- Bridgette Hale, a young Ramona mother with a nine-month-old infant, had high hopes for her future. She was engaged to be married. She had a new job, where she broke company records for sales calls in her first week, according to her family. But while driving to work January 26th, she was struck and killed on Highway 67 by a wrong-way driver. According to multiple witnesses, the driver, John Reinier Holsheimer, was weaving erratically and nearly hit several other vehicles before striking Hale’s car head-on.
Holsheimer pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge on August 3. If convicted, he would face at most one year in County jail. But family members believe that’s not enough—and want to know why CHP officials did not order drug or alcohol tests on Holsheimer—tests which might have enabled prosecutors to file felony charges.
Ironically, on the very same day that Holsheimer pled not guilty, another local motorist was ordered to stand trial for felony manslaughter. That driver, Wiliam Vincent Romero, faces 14 years in prison if convicted of driving drunk and killing a man when his car drifted into another lane.
Family members of Hale believe her killer is getting off too lightly. “This was a very senseless death,” Ken Vanek, Hale’s brother-in-law, told East County Magazine, adding, “Bridgette was more of a sister to me…I’ve known her since she was four years old.”
He recalled once being forced to undergo a field sobriety test for merely forgetting to turn on headlights in his wife’s new car. “How is it that he [Holsheimer] drove recklessly, speeding up and slowing down, crossing the double yellow line and on the wrong side of the road with nine witnesses and several calls to 911?” he asks. “If that is not probable cause for possible DUI, then we are in a world of hurt.”
The CHP report indicates that Holsheimer got off work the day before around 2:30 p.m, but told officers he didn’t remember where he went for the next eleven and a half hours. Around 2 a.m. on the 26th he said he remembered arriving at Barona Casino, where he stayed up all night gambling. He left the casino at 2 p.m. in the afternoon to drive home to Oceanside, but struck Hale’s car shortly after leaving Barona.
Hale, who was wearing a seatbelt, was killed instantly, crushed in the wreckage.
Holsheimer was also injured, suffering a broken femur, hip and pelvis, according to the CHP report. At a hospital later, he told officers he believed he fell asleep before the collision. He also told a witness that he must have fallen asleep. But another witness said he appeared awake and was sitting up perfectly straight. Those witnesses and others all confirmed that Holsheimer was driving for an extended time on the wrong side of the road and narrowly avoided hitting other vehicles.
According to CHP records, he gave officers a fake I.D., a Nevada driver’s license identifying him as John Hallaway. He later admitted to officers that he made up the last name to get a job because he’d been unable to get employment due to his past history.
Nevada records indicate John R. Holsheimer was charged in September 2009 with using forged credit cards and paid a $3,000 bond, according to WhosArrested.com. (Nevada court records are not immediately available to determine whether he was cleared or convicted, as those records are not online.) He has also faced a string of other civil legal issues including multiple small claims courts and tax liens filed against him.
In San Bernadino, John Reinier Holsheimer paid a fine for a May 20, 2001 infraction of California Vehicle Code 121460(A): crossing a double-yellow line. The Court in San Bernadino no longer has records to indicate whether Holsheimer was involved in an accident or caused injury to anyone else in that incident. The disposition is listed as a "conviction" in Accurint records provided through a local attorney.
The CHP report recommended that Holsheimer be charged with vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence or intoxication – a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of one year in County jail.
On a Facebook page dedicated to Hale’s memory, Vanek posted in July that toxicology reports on Holsheimer done at the hospital came back positive and that the District Attorney’s office was considering filing felony charges, but later posted a note stating that urine had been destroyed by the hospital.
“If she was a celebrity or somebody famous, I don’t think we’d be going through this,” he told East County Magazine, expressing skepticism at law enforcement statements indicating there was no reasonable cause to order drug tests on Holsheimer.
CHP spokesman Brian Penner said that the department conducted a thorough investigation into the fatality accident and that officers did not ask that blood or urine tests be taken, nor was a breathalyzer test done. “We are very empathetic to the family and the loss of life that they have suffered,” he said. “The personnel on the scene had no probable cause to suspect that this person was under the influence. Therefore no chemical test was obtained and DUI charges cannot be filed.”
He would not comment on whether urine had been destroyed, but confirmed that tests must be ordered by law enforcement, not hospital physicians, and be conducted by an independent lab under supervision of law enforcement to be admissible in court. Asked if law enforcement can require tests for drugs or alcohol if a driver falls asleep, he said such action without other indications of intoxication could violate the U.S. Constitution.
Christine Martinez, marketing and communications manager for Sharp Hospital, could not speak about Holsheimer’s case due to medical privacy laws. But she confirmed, “It’s my understanding that the tests we do here at the hospital are not admissible in court.”
Kate Gibbs at the California Attorney General’s office declined to clarify whether California law allows CHP to order alcohol or drug tests if a wrong-way driver was driving erratically or fell asleep. “Because the Attorney General represents the Highway Patrol in some legal matters, we cannot comment or speculate on this incident,” she added, then referred ECM to Police Officers Standards and Training.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Golovato said decisions on drug testing are made by law enforcement “based on what they observe. We are moving forward with the information that we have.” Without toxicology reports, she could not file felony charges, she confirmed. Holsheimer could face community service, a fine, and loss of his license if convicted, in addition to no more than one year in jail.
Whether California law allows drug tests to be ordered under the circumstances in Holsheimer’s case is unclear. However an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on August 25, 1004 titled “Testing Reckless Drivers for Cocaine and Marijuana” suggests that such tests have been ordered in at least one other state—with troubling results.
In Memphis, Tennessee, 175 subjects were stopped for reckless driving in 1993 who were NOT apparently impaired by alcohol (no odor of alcohol, and in some cases, tested negative on breathalyzers). Of those, 150 had urine tests conducted. Those tests were compared with clinical evaluations of intoxication made at the scene by police officers.
The results were startling. Over half (59% ) of those drivers tested positive for drugs. That included 13% positive for cocaine, 33% positive for marijuana, and 19% positive for both drugs. Equally troubling, over half of the reckless drivers who officers believed were not intoxicated with alcohol were found to be legally intoxicated on other drugs. Even police officers specially trained as drug-recognition experts were often unable to identify people under the use of cocaine, the report noted.
The medical authors concluded, “Toxicology testing at the scene is a practical means of identifying drivers under the influence of drugs and is a useful adjunct to standard behavioral sobriety testing…Programs of drug testing such as ours could be useful in preventing traffic injuries.”
Seated in the front row to observe Holsheimer’s plea in court, Deanne Vanek sat in the front row, holding a framed photograph of her dead sister, Bridgette Hale. Silently, she wiped away a tear, then explained that she has lost both her sister and nephew. “The dad has the boy; he relocated to Ohio,” she said, her voice choked with emotion.
On Facebook, family and friends have created a living tribute to Hale’s memory. “You would be so proud of our son,” Michael Goshay wrote. “He looks just like you … i just wish you was here to help me raise him to be a good man…”
Katherine Spicker-Schill posted a poem: “I think of you in silence. I often speak your name. All I have are memories and a picture in a frame. Your memory is a keepsake, with which I’ll never part. God has you in His keeping, I have you in my heart.”
Ken Vanek understands that it’s too late for felony charges to be filed against his sister-in-law’s killer, absent drug tests that CHP says it could not order. But he hopes to see procedures or laws changed to require toxicology testing on drivers who cause fatality accidents, including those who fall asleep or drive recklessly. “Our focus is for this never to happen again.”