A Raleigh woman has learned the hard way that her own tragedy will not shield her from criminal charges. The 49-year-old was in a car accident a few weeks ago that left her seriously injured. Her 12-year-old son died in the crash.
According to police reports, the woman was speeding and driving erratically at around 3:45 p.m. when her SUV hit a street sign, struck three trees, rolled over and landed in a ravine. A witness told the 911 operator that the vehicle was “crushed.” The boy was pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators said that the woman’s blood alcohol content was 0.32. In North Carolina, the legal limit is 0.08. Shortly after the accident, police charged her with speeding and misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. There may be additional charges.
It is not clear whether the woman was conscious or in any condition to deal with the police when they arrived at the accident scene. Remember, though, that North Carolina’s implied consent laws allow the police to order blood alcohol testingeven when the person is unconscious.
According to the statute, the officer must have “reasonable grounds to believe that a person has committed an implied-consent offense” (like driving while impaired or death by motor vehicle), but the officer has no obligation to ask for the person’s consent. There is no right to refuse.
Nor does the law require that law enforcement give oral or written notice to the person. The notice requirement is not just postponed until the person is awake or in good enough condition to understand what is happening. The requirement disappears altogether.
When this woman leaves the hospital, then — and a Raleigh-Durham television station is reporting that her condition is improving — she will likely have very little time to deal with the loss of her son and the charges against her. She faces serious charges, and she may go from the hospital directly to jail.
Her circumstances serve as a terrible reminder of how strict North Carolina’s laws are when it comes to driving while impaired.
Source: Raleigh News & Observer, “Raleigh mother charged in son’s death still hospitalized,” Thomasi McDonald, Oct. 16, 2014