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A second jury in nine months failed to agree Tuesday whether a Deer Park man’s marijuana use caused a fatal crash, highlighting the lack of accepted standards to determine when motorists should be considered too stoned to drive.
A Spokane County jury deliberated only about seven hours before announcing the impasse Tuesday in the vehicular homicide trial of Jonathon P. Bales, 22, who caused the fatal crash on July 26, 2010, that severed the leg and killed 54-year-old Rene Blaume.
The vehicular homicide trial of Jonathon Bales raised an interesting legal question that a defense attorney made his focus during opening arguments: At what point does a driver become impaired after smoking marijuana?
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Mary Ann Brady argued to the jury Monday that marijuana contributed to Bales’ turning some 47 feet prior to his intended intersection on Wandermere Road, causing the collision that killed 54-year-old Rene Blaume on July 16, 2010.
The lead investigator determined “the cause of the collision was because (Bales) had active THC in his blood at the time of the collision,” Brady said.
Blaume was driving 45 mph in the northbound lane and investigators estimated that Bales, 22, was driving a 1985 Pontiac Firebird 9 to 10 mph in the southbound lane when he crossed the centerline, causing the crash that severed Baume’s leg and killing her.
But defense attorney Sean Downs pointed out that none of the investigating deputies – who were trained to look for DUIs — reported that Bales appeared to be impaired when they spoke to him after the crash. A blood was negative for alcohol but showed 3.9 nano-grams of active THC per milliliter. THC is the active ingredient in marijuana.
“That doesn’t mean anything unless there are signs of impairment,” Downs told the jury. Bales “may have misjudged how far away Ms. Blaume’s scooter was … but that is a simple infraction.
“This was an incredibly tragic case to be sure. But the evidence will show it was nothing more than a terribly tragic accident.”
Brady called Rebecca Flaherty, a forensic toxicologist, who said the American Medical Association has yet to come to agreement – as they have with alcohol – which level drivers become impaired after smoking marijuana.
Downs asked Flaherty whether a blood test or the officers at the scene would be the best judge at determining impairment. She replied: “The officers are the scene.”
On re-direct, Brady asked Flaherty whether marijuana could have caused Bales to drive in the wrong lane and attempt to make a turn 47 feet before the intended intersection. “It could be an explanation for why he made those errors,” Flaherty responded.
The same issues caused a jury to become deadlocked last September.
A jury deadlocked Tuesday on the vehicular homicide trial of a Deer Park man involved in a collision that killed a woman on a scooter.
Jonathon P. Bales waswas driving his 1985 Pontiac Firebird southbound on Wandermere Road on July 16 when he apparently crossed the center line and struck 54-year-old Rene Blaume, who was riding a Racer iScooter in the northbound lane near the intersection with Glenrose Drive.
Bales, who was 20 at the time, had marijuana in his system at the time of the crash, according to court records.
Bales also said he had been drinking earlier in the evening while helping a friend work on a car, according to the Spokane County Sheriff's Office.
Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Mary Ann Brady said she intends to re-try the case before Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins.
A 21-year-old man Deer Park is on trial this week for a July 2010 collision that killed a woman riding a motor scooter north of Spokane.
Jonathon P. Bales was driving his 1985 Pontiac Firebird southbound on Wandermere Road on July 16 when he apparently crossed the center line and struck 54-year-old Rene Blaume, (pictured) who was riding a Racer iScooter in the northbound lane near the intersection with Glenrose Drive.
Blaume, who was traveling to her job as an in-home care provider, was declared dead at the scene. Toxicology reports showed that Bales had marijuana in his system at the time of the crash, according to court records.
Bales also said he had been drinking earlier in the evening while helping a friend work on a car, according to the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. He turned himself in and is out of jail on $2,500 bond for a vehicular homicide charge.
Deputy Prosecutor Mary Ann Brady and public defender Anna Nordtvedt are handling the case. Judge Linda Tompkins is presiding. Opening statements were scheduled today.