Tuesday, July 22, 2008

City Councilor arrested for DUI medications in California

City Councilor Mary Flynn's Friday arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence was most likely due to prescription medications, not alcohol, Police Chief Bruce Hagerty said Monday.

Hagerty said he believed alcohol was not an issue when officers determined Flynn's driving was impaired Friday night after someone called to report her car resting against a wall of the Great Harvest Bread Co. on Forest Avenue.

"I just think she made a mistake in mixing several different medications," Hagerty said, referring to a recent medical procedure Flynn had undergone. He said she had medications with her in the car.

Flynn's attorney, Dennis Latimer, to whom she is referring questions, was in court on another issue Monday and could not be reached.

Hagerty said blood work taken at Enloe Medical Center following the incident was submitted to a lab Monday morning. The Chico Police Department will get a report from the lab in one to three weeks, he said. The test will reveal whatever substance was in the city councilor's system at the time.

"It's not illegal to drive a motor vehicle with prescription drugs in your system provided that they don't interfere with your ability to drive that vehicle safely. That's what will have to be determined regarding the charge of guilt or innocence regarding driving under the influence," Hagerty said.

However, he said there is no difference between alcohol, prescription drugs and illicit drugs in terms of their ability to impair driving. He said no matter what the substance is, the officer in the field determines through a number of field-sobriety tests whether the driver's ability is impaired.
"We have to pay attention to what that prescription bottle says," Hagerty said when asked for advice for others on prescription drugs.

Hagerty said warnings that prescription drugs can cause drowsiness or should not be taken while driving should be heeded.

However, he acknowledged drugs can have different effects on different people.

"It's an individual's decision on a person's part, and people make mistakes. I really think that's what she made, a mistake," he said.

Flynn, a Chico High School math teacher, was hired July 7 by Chico State University, confirmed Joe Wills, director of public affairs.

Flynn will serve in a full-time position as program administrator for the Community Action Volunteers in Education, an Associated Students program coordinating students who do volunteer work in the community.

She's in year two of her first four-year term on the City Council.

Hagerty said while determining innocence or guilt is more cut-and-dried for a DUI involving alcohol — a person is guilty of DUI when blood-alcohol content is .08 — there is no presumptive level for medications. Instead, a district attorney will use a combination of the blood work identifying the substance and the officer's opinion following field-sobriety tests to determine whether to press charges or drop the case.

Police got a call from someone inside the Great Harvest Bread Co. about 5:30 p.m. Friday reporting a car resting against the wall and saying a woman was involved in the incident, Hagerty said.

Officers found the front bumper of Flynn's car against the building, as if she were going to park and kept going, not crashing into but meeting the wall, he said.

He said there were scratches or minor damage to the wall, so officers took a traffic report to cover any damages the owner would need to claim.

Hagerty said Flynn was arrested, booked and processed Friday night and then released.

Flynn was arrested for DUI once before — in 1990. District Attorney Mike Ramsey said the law now requires those with previous DUIs within the last 10 years to receive enhanced punishment.

A DUI remains on a driver's record.