In Oregon State Police Sgt. Tom Hutchison’s years in law enforcement, he has seen a marked increase in cases of drivers under the influence of intoxicants, beyond alcohol.
“Of our DUIs this year, more than half have been DUI marijuana or controlled substances — those aren’t coming from the bar,” he said. “Most are coming from home or traveling. A lot of people out on road trips are either drinking and driving or using substances and driving.”
Driving while impaired can, of course, result in fines, driver’s license suspensions and jail time — or worse, injuries and fatalities.
Hutchison, a certified drug recognition expert, has been the OSP sergeant at the John Day Work Site for seven years and has been in law enforcement for a total of 18 years, with all of those years in Grant County.
On the morning of Dec. 18, 2018, Hutchison responded to a single-vehicle noninjury crash on a snowy Highway 395 near Starr Ridge, south of Canyon City.
He said the 39-year-old male driver from Washington state, who had slid off the road, appeared to be impaired with central nervous system depressants and CNS stimulants.
The driver consented to field sobriety tests, after which the man was arrested and taken to the Grant County Jail.
“During a search of the driver and vehicle, incident to arrest, I seized 2 grams of cocaine, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3 grams of methamphetamines, evidence of inhalants and prescription medication that the driver did not have a prescription for, including Valium,” Hutchison said.
The driver was booked and lodged on charges of DUI-drug and unlawful possession of controlled substances.
With the legalization of recreational marijuana in July of 2015, Hutchison said, “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in people driving under the influence of cannabis.”
Drivers who’ve been using cannabis are often stopped for a moving violation or traffic offense, then the officer while contacting the driver will notice indicators of impairment due to cannabis, he said.
“It’s a common misconception that people drive slower while under the influence of cannabis,” he added. “Studies actually show a higher incidence of drivers speeding while under the influence of cannabis.”
Officers see more DUI problems around the holidays.
“One holiday is not necessarily more significant than another,” Hutchison said. “New Year’s we usually do a saturation, and on Memorial Day and Super Bowl Sunday. Anytime, day or night, we find DUIs for alcohol, marijuana or controlled substances, mostly at night.”
Officers are trained to recognize indicators of impairment caused by any of the seven drug categories: CNS depressants (downers), CNS stimulants (uppers), hallucinogens, dissociative anesthetics, narcotic analgesics, inhalants and cannabis.
An impaired driver’s blood alcohol content is measured with a breathalyzer at the jail.
“That’s the first step to eliminate the possibility of alcohol,” Hutchison said. “If a person’s BAC is not consistent with the officer’s observations of impairment, then the officer can ask for a urine sample. At that time the subject is also given an opportunity to participate in a drug recognition exam.”
The exam is a 12-step process, which includes checking the person’s psycho-physical symptoms, such as blood pressure, pulse, body temperature and an in-depth examination of the eyes, as different drug categories affect the eyes in various ways.
The drug recognition expert will determine if there is impairment and, if so, check to see if the impairment is due to a medical condition or one or more of the seven drug categories.
More than half of DUI cases are either cannabis alone or cannabis along with other drugs and cannabis with alcohol, Hutchison said.
There are a myriad of effects when drugs and alcohol are combined.
“We have a zero tolerance — we don’t give warnings for DUI,” Hutchison said. “If a person is arrested for DUI, it starts a process of fines and license suspension, possible jail time and even worse. If someone is injured you can get person crimes — assault, manslaughter, negligent homicide. The risk is really great that they’re going to be affecting their life and someone else’s life significantly for quite awhile.”
Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter said fines for the first DUI offense are $1,000. The second offense is $1,500, he said, and third is $2,000.
“Any offense with a blood alcohol content higher than .15 is fined $2,000, regardless of which offense it is,” Carpenter said.
Licenses are suspended for one year for the first offense, and if a second conviction occurs within five years of the first, the person’s license would be suspended for three years. After that, the license is revoked for “lifetime.”
For a person’s first offense, jail time may be 48 hours or 80 hours of community service.
With a second offense, it is up to the court, Carpenter said — usually between 45-60 days. And for a third offense, it’s 90 days.
The consequences listed here don’t take into account offenders who are eligible for a diverted sentence — where the charge is dismissed after completing certain provisions — or felony offenders.
There could be harsher consequences if the DUI results in property damage, injuries or death, or if a child is in the vehicle at the time of offense.
Alcohol offenders who want to drive, following a period of suspension, must have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle for a period of time, including diversions.
The driver blows into the device, and the vehicle will start only if no alcohol is detected.
Installation fees range from $200 for a conventional vehicle to $400 for a push-button start vehicle.
Intoxalock, the company that makes the devices, charges an $80 monthly leasing fee for them. There is also a $25 fee to recalibrate the device every 30 days — otherwise the vehicle could stop at any time.
Another monetary cost would be potential attorney’s fees.
As part of his job, Hutchison speaks at victim impact panels, which offenders are required to attend, where he shows photos of significant DUI crashes and gives the law enforcement perspective.
A person who was the victim of a DUI crash travels to Canyon City regularly to speak at the panels, held at the DA’s office at the county courthouse in Canyon City, and videos of other people telling their stories are also shown.
Hutchison said drivers usually don’t gauge their own impairment accurately once they’ve started drinking.
“Most people will have a designated driver,” he said.
This could include the Grant County People Mover or a taxi, and a lot of bars on major holidays will have someone designated to give rides to people, he said.
“The law is, if a person is impaired to a noticeable or perceptible degree or greater than a .08 percent,” he said. “If you feel buzzed, then you shouldn’t be driving, because you perceive that there is an impairment.”
“Even smoking marijuana — they find someone else to drive,” he continued. “Those consuming meth — they know that police are looking for those people that are on (those) drugs as well — a lot of them won’t drive.”
He said, if people see someone suspected to be under influence, they should call 911 and report it — “you’ll be doing them a favor.”
One misconception is people thinking that, since they are only a few blocks from home, they can drive safely.
“From law enforcement’s perspective, it doesn’t matter if you only have a block to get home or 10 miles — if you’re driving while impaired, you will be arrested,” Hutchison said. “A person having a respect for others on the highway, whether they have any care for their own well-being, they should be considerate of the other people sharing the highway.”