Bergen County Court Convicts New Jersey Motorist of Cocaine Hangover following DUI-related Car Crash

According to news reports, a motorist was recently convicted of drug DUI in a Bergen County courtroom following a traffic accident at a Fort Lee toll booth that netted him a charge of drunken driving in 2008. The case, which was tried before a jury, may have been the first of its kind in the Garden State, according to reports.

Based on news articles, Bergen County prosecutors were able to convict 47-year-old Kenneth Verpent based on the so-called aftereffect of taking cocaine. One of Bergen County’s assistant prosecutors stated that people think intoxication comes from the high one gets after using cocaine, much like the so-called buzz from alcohol. The state’s case apparently was based on the intoxication that occurs even after the initial high “wears off.”

It’s said that this is a rather novel approach to convicting drivers who allegedly operate their vehicles while impaired by alcohol or other substance, such as illicit drugs like cocaine or marijuana. Such an approach to prosecuting drivers could even include those who are taking prescription medication, say some experts.

The case in question arose out of a December 2008 traffic accident at a Fort Lee, NJ, toll plaza. According to reports, Verpent was driving a large tow truck to a job in New York City. Approaching the plaza along the George Washington Bridge, his vehicle rear-ended a Honda Accord driven by Sabrina Patrick of Little Falls.

The woman’s smaller car was crushed between the Verpent’s tow truck and another heavy vehicle directly in front of her. The crash reportedly left Patrick with a fractured spine. According to news article, the woman, now 40 years old, had to leave her job and move to Arizona to avoid the higher humidity of the East Coast, made worse by her injuries following that accident.

Police reports showed that Verpent’s eyes were bloodshot and his pupils were constricted at the time of the crash. According to news articles, the man appeared to police to be slow, lethargic and unsteady on his feet. And while his blood-alcohol content (BAC) was measured as 0.0 percent, his urine tested positive for cocaine.

A forensic toxicologist from the University of Miami explained that cocaine, as with many stimulants, can leave a user depressed, drowsy and fatigued once its effects wear off. According to reports, experts believe that since cocaine stays in the body for only a short time, the so-called “cocaine hangover” or “cocaine crash” can occur rather quickly. Based on expert testimony, the prosecution argued that driving during that “hangover” period can leave a motorist just as impaired as if they had previously had a great deal to drink.

It’s apparently becoming more common to see individuals arrested and prosecuted for having this kind of drug hangover, with police enforcement patterns turning up more and more drivers accused of such an offense.

‘Cocaine hangover’ leads to conviction for driver, WTSP.com, December 4, 2010