By Miriam Raftery
August 17, 2010 (Lakeside) – Bridgette Hale died in a head-on collision on Highway 67. Multiple witnesses called 911 to report a wrong-way driver weaving over the center line moments before he struck and killed Hale. The driver, John Holsheimer, was only charged with a misdemeanor, because California Highway Patrol did not order blood drawn to determine whether he may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Now Hale’s brother-in-law, Ken Vanek, is asking a local legislator to sponsor legislation to prevent impaired drivers from evading felony charges by requiring drug testing whenever a fatality crash occurs.
“What I am asking Assemblyman [Nathan] Fletcher to sponsor is legislation for law enforcement mandatory blood draws for all fatality accidents in California,” Vanek wrote in an e-mail sent to Fletcher staffer Patrick Bouteller. “This is standard procedure in many states.”
Vanek hopes to prevent other families from suffering the anguish that Hale's family has gone through. He wants to help to get problem drivers off the road--before they kill someone. Hale, a Ramona resident, was engaged to be married and left behind an infant son. Her boy, who recently celebrated his first birthday, is now living in another state with his father, causing a double sense of loss for local relatives.
A spokesman in Fletcher's office said staff is currently researching the issue to determine feasibility of the measure proposed by Vanek.
Randy Koubek, an Ohio Sheriff, confirmed in an e-mail that “in Ohio, we can subpoena the records for blood from the hospital.” In California, even if a doctor at a hospital orders blood drawn, law enforcement cannot subpoena the records. Only blood draws ordered by law enforcement and conducted by an independent laboratory under supervision of law enforcement are admissible in court.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, previously reported by East County Magazine, found that even highly trained veteran law enforcement officers could not detect individuals under the effects of illicit drugs, as drug tests conducted on drivers involved in reckless driving incidents revealed.
Vanek also suggested that drivers who test positive for drugs should be required to reimburse the state for the cost of testing.
Holsheimer’s trial is set for September 24. Charged with a misdemeanor, he faces a maximum of one year in County jail. Drivers charged with felony manslaughter, by contrast, may face many years in state prison. The District Attorney declined to press felony charges because no drug or alcohol tests were ordered by California Highway Patrol.
For our previous coverage of this story, see http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/3961.