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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Stoned-while driving case hangs, again

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.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 6: Driving while stoned is focus of trial

Sept. 21: Jury deadlocked in fatal scooter crash
  

When are you too stoned to drive?

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.

2nd trial begins in fatal scooter crash

Testimony began Tuesday in the second vehicular homicide trial against a Spokane man who killed a woman riding a scooter north of Spokane in 2010.

 Jonathan P. Bales, 22, is facing a second trial after a jury deadlocked and could not come to a unanimous decision following his first trial last September.

Bales was driving his 1985 Pontiac Firebird southbound on Wandermere Road on July 16, 2010, when he crossed the center line and struck 54-year-old Rene Blaume, who was riding her Racer iScooter.

Blaume (pictured) suffered a severed leg and died both from blood loss from the amputation and from trauma from the crash, according to testimony.

A blood test on Bales was negative for alcohol but showed traces of marijuana.

Jury deadlocked in fatal scooter crash

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.

Trial begins in fatal car-scooter crash

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.

Witnesses sought in fatal scooter crash

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a Friday crash near Wandermere Road and Glencrest Drive that fatally injured a Spokane woman who traveled to work by scooter.

Rene Blaume, 54, was riding to her job as an in-home health care provider for a night shift around 11 p.m., when a red 1985 Pontiac Firebird driven by Jonathan Bales, 20, turned in front of her, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.

A sheriff’s deputy driving on Highway 395 noticed Bales’ vehicle just before the crash because it had one head light out.

When the deputy went to stop Bales, he came upon the crash. Bales called 911 immediately after the crash and gave the police a voluntary blood draw.

He told them he had been drinking earlier in the evening while helping a friend work on a car, said sheriff’s Detective David Thornburg. The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the crash.

Anyone who witnessed the crash should contact Thornburg at dthornburg@spokanesheriff.org, or (509) 477-2710.