• Fri. Jan 14th, 2022

Ex-prosecutor: Soldiers’ mistakes mar fatal DUI case

ByJanice K. Merrill

Nov 25, 2021

A former Clark County prosecutor said the Nevada Highway Patrol made serious errors in its investigation into an impaired truck driver who ran over a group of cyclists near Searchlight in December, killing five people.

Former chief district attorney Thomas Moskal, who has sued Jordan Barson, 46, said body camera video from the Dec. 10 crash scene shows soldiers missing signs that Barson was under the influence of methamphetamine after the box truck he was driving collided with cyclists. Barson, Moskal said, was viewed by the soldiers as having “unsatisfactory results” on field sobriety tests, but the soldiers repeatedly told the camera that they did not think Barson was weakened.

“Anyone watching this video, you don’t have to be a trained drug recognition expert to say this guy is impaired,” Moskal said, adding, “don’t even think it’s an option. which I would say is amazing. “

Moskal now works as a defense attorney in the Las Vegas Valley. He said the soldiers did not apply for a warrant for a blood test for Barson, choosing instead to convince Barson to submit to a voluntary blood test. This later presented the possibility that a defense lawyer could claim that the blood test was forced by authorities.

In the end, Moskal said the errors led Clark County prosecutors to come up with a plea deal that significantly reduced the jail time Barson was given. He was sentenced in June to 16 to 40 years in prison.

“It’s more than fair to say they screwed it up,” Moskal said of the Highway Patrol investigation.

The Nevada Department of Public Safety, which oversees highway patrol, issued a statement in response to this story:

“The safety of the public and the lives of every person is a priority for the ministry and for every soldier who has taken an oath to keep our roads and our communities safe. The decision to drive impaired is one of the leading causes of death on the road, and our deepest condolences go to the families affected by these incredibly tragic events. These accidents can be avoided if drivers make wise decisions.

“The Department has thoroughly reviewed this investigation and continues to be committed to improving investigative techniques, providing the necessary resources and ongoing training to soldiers.”

“I don’t smell alcohol on him”

The cyclists were part of a group of 20 who left Henderson that morning to complete the approximately 130 mile Nipton Loop. All of the cyclists who were killed or injured were seeking shelter from the wind and were behind the group’s security escort vehicle when Barson’s box van hit them, according to a Highway Patrol report. The speed limit in the area where the accident occurred is 75 mph.

Las Vegas cyclist Erin Michelle Ray, 39, was killed. Gerrard Suarez Nieva, 41; Michael Todd Murray, 57; Aksoy Ahmet, 48 years old; and Tom Trauger, 57.

Body camera video from the scene shows soldiers saying repeatedly, before and after field sobriety tests, that impairment is not suspected.

“I don’t smell alcohol on him,” we hear one soldier say. “I have no reason to believe he’s under the influence. He is visibly distraught.

Field sobriety tests are also pictured in the video. Barson is heard saying that he feels “shaking” and one soldier is subsequently heard telling another soldier that parts of Barson’s test results “were a disaster.”

Yet when a soldier later describes the test results to a supervisor, he offers reasons why Barson performed poorly, noting that a helicopter was flying nearby and the ground on which the tests were administered was uneven.

Consensual blood test

Soldiers are heard in the video noting that cyclists were riding in the traffic lane of the freeway, even though cyclists, under Nevada law, were allowed to ride in the traffic lane.

“They were driving on lane 2, the bikes, okay?” We hear one soldier say to another.

“It changes things,” we hear one soldier say.

“A little,” the soldier replies.

In the video, the soldiers say they have no probable reason to seek a warrant to draw Barson’s blood. Instead, they decide they must convince Barson to submit to a voluntary draw. They repeatedly tell Barson that he will lose his license unless he submits to the draw.

“What happens to me, what happens if I say no?” Said Barson.

“Well, you lose your license for a year,” we hear one soldier say.

“OK,” Barson replies.

“I don’t want that to happen to you,” one says one soldier.

Mistakes prompt a plea deal

Blood tests performed on Barson with his permission later showed that he had more than nine times the amount of methamphetamine in his system needed to be considered impaired at the time of the crash. He pleaded guilty in April to two counts of impaired driving causing death. He originally faced five counts of impaired driving causing death, two counts of impaired driving causing significant bodily harm and seven counts of driving. reckless.

Moskal said the plea deal was the result of mistakes made at the scene and soldiers’ failure to adopt an “investigative mindset.”

“The problem was that he (the first soldier at the scene) was really checking for alcohol and he didn’t smell of alcohol,” Moskal said. “Well, this guy had enough methamphetamine in his body to overdose someone.” “

Moskal said prosecutors advise law enforcement to always seek a warrant for blood tests in fatal accidents.

“Even if the guy agrees, ask for a warrant because we just don’t want it to go to court,” he said.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson declined to comment for this story.

Calls for change

Donna Trauger lost her husband, Tom, in the crash. She described the loss of the avid cyclist, triathlete and father as a never-ending nightmare in which justice has not been served.

“You can imagine it, but you don’t know it until you’ve experienced something like this,” she said.

Trauger said it was clear to her that the investigation at the scene had been botched.

“Ask for a warrant,” she said. “Follow the proper protocols. It should have been part of basic training. All of these things were missed.

Trauger watched most of the video of the crash scene and said she “felt the soldiers were blaming the victim.”

“They were more concerned about why the cyclists were there, why they were riding in lane two… they sympathized with the driver,” she said. “They seemed overly concerned and emotional about what he was feeling and doing and less concerned about the dead people lying on the road.”

Trauger said she was in regular contact with highway patrol leaders, demanding that they increase training and provide more resources for soldiers to become drug detection experts.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal in September reported chronic turnover and understaffing at the Highway Patrol due to state underfunding.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at [email protected] To follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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