Drugged and Driving

Published 8:14 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2017

By: Melanie Ruberti


More drugs in the community also means more impaired drivers on the roads

LaGRANGE – It only took Georgia State Patrol Trooper 1st Class J.L. McClung a quick glance into the eyes of a man driving a Cadillac CTS to know he was under the influence.

McClung was called to the Summit Food Store and gas station at 2860 Upper Big Springs Road just after 9 p.m. on Friday in reference to a car that hit the front of the building.

While the unidentified driver did not smell like alcohol, his behavior was off and he reportedly was unsteady on his feet, said law enforcement officials.

The driver failed a field sobriety test, McClung said. He also found a bottle of prescription pills inside the man’s Cadillac.

The trooper called AMR to ensure the man was not suffering a medical crisis. But McClung would also need them to transport the driver to the hospital to draw blood.

Trooper McClung strongly believed the man was driving under the influence of drugs. The blood sample will tell him which drug it is and the amount that was in the man’s system while he was driving.

The results will determine whether the driver is charged with DUI – drugs.

“Impairment is still the same, whether it’s alcohol or drugs,” stated Senior Patrol Officer Chad Bohannon with the LaGrange Police Department.

Bohannon has worked with LPD for three and a half years in the patrol division. Before that, he spent 15 years with the Columbus Police Department – part of the time with their “Motor Squad” – a motorcycle traffic enforcement unit.

The senior patrol officer has a keen eye for spotting someone who is potentially driving while under the influence. Recently, more of those arrests are for folks who are “drugged and driving.”

Bohannon has arrested 17 people for DUI since Dec. 1, 2016, he said. Six of the 17 drivers were caught under the influence of drugs.

The drug of choice for impaired drivers seems to be marijuana, Bohannon said.

“They (drivers) will either already have smoked it or will eat it before I get to them, throw it (marijuana) out the window or try to hide it on their body, clothes or in the car,” he stated. “If I can smell the marijuana, then I know they (driver or passengers) were near it recently – whether they smoked it or were in the presence of it. Even if its (marijuana) is long gone, people can still feel the effects of it hours later.”

Bohannon said the reaction (or lack thereof) in a person’s eyes during a field sobriety test will typically tell officers whether the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“The lack of convergence test is best to use when you suspect someone is on drugs,” Bohannon explained. “If a person can’t cross their eyes when you move the tip of pen towards their nose … one of the drugs that causes that is marijuana.”

Pot and illegal narcotics such as Methamphetamine, Cocaine and Heroin are not the only drugs that may cause a person to be charged with DUI. Any controlled substance that impairs a person’s driving could send them to jail, Bohannon stated. That includes over the counter medications and pills prescribed by your doctor.

“This is why a lot of medications have warning labels on them,” said Bohannon. “Tylenol P.M. has a legitimate medical purpose, but that still doesn’t excuse you from driving DUI. You will still be arrested.”

Sgt. Mark Cavender, head of LPD’s Special Investigation Unit, said his team sees its fair share of prescription drug abuse on the city streets as well.

“I can’t say the problem has grown or become worse over the past few years, but our arrests have grown,” he stated. “I think law enforcement as a whole now sees that prescription drug abuse is a problem equal to other problems such as methamphetamine and cocaine …”

Opiate-based drugs, such as Norco, Oxycodone and OxyContin are popular on the streets of LaGrange, Cavender said. So are Benzodiazepines such as Klonopin, Xanax and Valium.

SIU has also seen a large number of people now abusing codeine based cough syrup, Cavender added.

Bohannon stated two of the DUI – drug arrests he made were from people who misused prescription pills.

The senior patrol officer hopes people will become more aware of the medications they are using, how many pills they are taking and any possible side effects.

“Just like I have an obligation to ensure the safety of the community as a police officer, every driver has the responsibility of ensuring they are safe to drive,” Bohannon said. “If they’re not going to uphold their obligation to drive safe, then I will uphold my obligation to keep the community safe and arrest them.”

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.