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On March 3, 2014, after deliberating for less than 15 minutes, a jury convicted Wesley New of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and Driving While Suspended – Prior, both Class A misdemeanors. Upon being convicted by the jury, New waived his right to a jury for the second phase of the trial and admitted to the Court that he had a prior conviction for OWI within the previous five years, which makes his charge a Class D felony. Therefore, the Court entered judgments of conviction for felony OWI and misdemeanor Driving While Suspended.
On April 4, 2013, the defendant was driving on County Road 6 in Elkhart, Indiana, near the Elkhart Municipal Airport. An eyewitness, Douglas McDaniel, testified that the defendant crossed over into the opposite lane of traffic, nearly colliding head-on with a tow truck as the tow truck blasted its air horn. The defendant then drove through a ditch, side swiped a utility pole which knocked out the electricity of the nearby fire department, crashed through two business signs, drove for a period of time on two wheels, and finally came to a stop in a nearby parking lot.
Upon initial contact with Officer Chad Hoien of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, the defendant was observed acting slow, lethargic, and had slurred speech. It turned out his Indiana driving privileges were that of “suspended – prior” at the time he crashed his vehicle as well. The defendant then performed some field sobriety tests, of which he failed two of three, and then consented to a breath test. The breath test, however, revealed no alcohol on the defendant’s breath, with a reading of .00. Despite the lack of alcohol, officers involved could see, based upon their training and experience, that something was not right with the defendant. He was nodding off, slurring his words, changing his attitude from a joking manner to becoming irate and using expletives, and acting bizarre. As a result, Officer Dustin Lundgren of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, who is a certified and recognized Drug Recognition Expert, met with the defendant and asked him if he would perform a Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE), to which the defendant consented. After a series of psychophysical tests and a formal interview, Officer Lundgren concluded that the defendant was impaired under the influence of two different drugs – synthetic marijuana and Vicodin – and was unable to safely operate a vehicle. The defendant ultimately admitted that he had taken Vicodin the day before without a valid prescription, smoked synthetic marijuana “two days” prior, and smoked marijuana “a couple of weeks” prior.
When the defendant was asked to submit a sample of his blood or urine for scientific analysis, the defendant became enraged, cursed at the officers, and refused to submit a bodily fluid sample. However, there was still an abundance of evidence demonstrating that he was intoxicated on drugs. At the time, the defendant had a previous conviction for OWI only ten months prior, making this offense a felony.
The jury heard extensive testimony from Officers Hoien and Lundgren and they were presented with three separate videos from the investigation that demonstrated just how impaired the defendant was on April 4, 2013. At trial, the defense claimed that the defendant crashed his car only because he fell asleep at the wheel, and that the defendant failed the field sobriety tests because he had a plate and screws in his ankle and wrists due to previous car accidents. However, the State countered those arguments by explaining that a person who is merely tired does not exhibit the signs and symptoms shown by the defendant; and the defendant never once complained that he was unable to perform the sobriety tests due to previous injuries.
This case was prosecuted by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Eric Ditton, with assistance from Legal Intern Martin Garry, before Judge David C. Bonfiglio. Judge Bonfiglio scheduled sentencing for Wednesday, April 2, 2014 in Elkhart Superior Court 6.