Archive for Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Father inspires proposed change in state traffic law

November 14, 2007

— A legislative committee on Friday recommended a bill that would require drug testing using an oral swab at motor vehicle accident scenes where there was an injury or a death.

The lawmakers are reacting to several recent fatal traffic accidents in which people who caused the wrecks were not tested for drug use.

"We've heard some compelling evidence that something needs to be done," said state Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson.

The House-Senate Judiciary Committee said it would recommend the bill when the full Legislature comes into session in January.

The move was supported by Dennis Bixby, of Tonganoxie, whose 19-year-old daughter, Amanda, was killed in a Feb. 14 traffic wreck.

"We've got to get this thing done, and at least this way we know that we are moving forward," Bixby said after the committee vote.

In the death of Amanda Bixby, officers initially cited Ricardo Flores, of Lansing, for vehicular homicide, failure to yield and driving without a license. Flores ran a stop sign and hit Bixby's car and another vehicle on U.S. Highway 24-40 just west of Basehor.

Under current law, vehicular homicide is a Class A misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

But shortly afterward, Leavenworth County Attorney Frank Kohl refused to pursue vehicular homicide charges against Flores. Kohl said a 2002 Kansas Supreme Court ruling in State of Kansas v. Bala Krovvidi held that the mere fact a driver ran a red light or a stop sign did not satisfy the legal elements required for a vehicular homicide conviction.

Flores pleaded no contest to failure to yield at a stop sign, speeding and driving without a valid license. In September, Flores was ordered to pay $228 in fines and court costs and spend six months on probation.

Bixby had lobbied lawmakers to amend the vehicular homicide law so that it could be triggered if a person didn't have a driver's license. But prosecutors who testified to the committee said not having a license doesn't cause wrecks.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said changing the vehicular homicide law was probably not doable. "It's an issue the Legislature has wrestled with for decades," he said.

But O'Neal, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the Legislature could adopt a law that would require drug testing by getting a saliva sample from people involved in accidents. The sample would be retrieved by a swab. He said the Legislature could restrict the requirement to accidents in which someone is killed or sent to the hospital.

If an oral swab showed the presence of drugs, then probable cause could exist to get a search warrant for a blood sample, supporters of the bill said.

Under the proposal, a person could refuse to submit to the test but they would lose their driver's license for a year. That is similar to the current law on submitting to a breath test in order to determine the level of alcohol consumption.

Some lawmakers, however, said requiring a swab test was an infringement on an individual's rights of privacy.

"I don't know where we are going with this," said state Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville. Journey said swabs may show the presence of drugs from legal, prescription medicines.

But Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, who attended Friday's meeting with Bixby, said he thought the proposal was balanced, addressed some of the Bixby's concerns, and had a chance of being approved by the full Legislature.

"I don't think this is going to be something that is going to be easy to accomplish, but I believe it has merit and I believe there is a good possibility that it can be," Pine said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.