One month after an arraignment of a Bakersfield, Calif. man charged with homicide by vehicle for allegedly driving under the influence and causing a two-vehicle car crash exposed a statewide shortage of approved blood-alcohol testing kits, Taos County law enforcement agencies report that they have been resupplied with the crucial equipment.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said that he sent a deputy to pick up 12 new kits three weeks ago after the shortage interfered with collecting evidence during the September crash.
Hogrefe’s deputies arrested 21-year-old Bakersfield resident Juan Espinoza early the morning of Sept. 30 after he allegedly crashed head-on into another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. Two people, Hannah Metzger, 25, and Cedrick Kober, 33, died in the crash. A third victim, Cody Woolard, 26, suffered major head trauma. According to a recent update, Woolard is just beginning to recover after spending more than one month in and out of a coma.
Although Espinoza allegedly admitted to drinking prior to the crash, deputies said they were unable to gather an accurate blood-alcohol reading using a Breathalyzer, and were left without alternatives when an inquiry into the availability of state-approved blood testing kits, which commonly provide admissible chemical evidence in drunk driving cases, revealed that none of the kits were available in the state.
“The state scientific lab produces those kits and provides them to law enforcement,” Hogrefe said following the crash. “They are the only ones that are approved and court accepted. There were absolutely none available.”
The lack of chemical evidence of alcohol levels beyond the legal limit has put prosecutors in a difficult position in a case that might otherwise have been fairly cut-and-dry. “It’s definitely not an ideal situation,” said Deputy District Attorney Ron Olsen.
Responding to an inquiry into the shortage, a spokesman with the New Mexico Department of Health said that certain components of the kits were in short supply due to hurricanes this summer in the southeastern United States.
On Oct. 10, DOH Communications Director Paul Rhein said that “all orders for blood alcohol kits have been fulfilled and shipped out.”
Taos Police Chief David Trujillo also confirmed that his department received a shipment of new kits a few weeks ago, but said that lacking the official kits could completely damage a case, “if and when it goes to trial if an expired blood kit is sent to the lab for an alleged violation.”
“The New Mexico Implied Consent Act has changed,” he added, “giving law enforcement less authority when it comes to doing blood draws unless it is a felonious case. Although we have burden of proof for impairment to the slightest degree when prosecuting a DUI, we would not be able to use an expired kit to prosecute a DUI case.”
The New Mexico State Police Taos district reported that they have been resupplied.
A GoFundMe campaign for Woolard is currently active at http://bit.ly/2hQDUj6.