Judge allows blood-test results in fatal-crash trial
A hospital blood–alcohol test will be allowed as evidence in the trial of a man accused of manslaughter and driving under the influence in a Sept. 6, 2012, crash in Culpeper that killed a 20-year-old woman who was nine months pregnant.
After hearing two days of testimony on the pre-trial defense motion, Judge Susan Whitlock ruled Wednesday that University of Virginia Medical Center personnel conducted the blood–alcohol test in the normal course of diagnosis and not simply to allow for the subsequent prosecution of 37-year-old Orlando Cruz.
Defense attorney Paul Walla had argued that Culpeper County Sheriff’s deputy Tom Buckley, who left the accident scene for the hospital within 45 minutes of the 6:25 p.m. crash on Eggbornsville Road, had ample time to administer the test using a state-approved kit before the three-hour window of legal opportunity expired.
Even after that window closed, Walla said that Buckley could still have sought a magistrate in Charlottesville and obtained a search warrant to get the blood sample.
He argued that Cruz, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, was deprived of his constitutional rights.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Barredo, however, told the court that Buckley had been prevented from obtaining a blood sample because Cruz, who was also injured in the wreck that killed Zulma Alvarez, was being
X–rayed and treated at the time.
Walla also stated that notes made in the emergency room by Dr. Thomas Hartka indicated that he detected no odor of alcohol while examining Cruz.
Helicopter medic Buck DeForge, however, earlier testified that he thought Cruz was intoxicated, as did nurse Catherine Harrington, who said that the defendant was in “an altered mental state” and kept calling her “baby” during the ER incident.
Walla said that the alcohol odor could have come from beer being spilled on Cruz during the head-on crash. An accident reconstruction report indicated that the defendant’s Jeep Cherokee veered into the oncoming lane when it struck Alvarez’s Ford Windstar minivan.
“Deputy Buckley simply didn’t want to interrupt medical care,” Barredo said. “He respected the situation because Mr. Cruz was also a victim of the accident.”
Judge Whitlock’s ruling was significant because it allows the trial to continue with the possibility of convictions on both the DUI and the vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charges.
A simple manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, while a manslaughter-while-intoxicated conviction could bring up to 20 years.
Cruz is also charged with driving without a license and improper use of a state inspection sticker.
Manslaughter charges involving Angel Alvarez, the mother’s unborn child, were dismissed Tuesday following a defense motion that was agreed to by the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.