Last week, the Hackensack Municipal prosecutor’s office dropped two key summonses previously lodged against a River Vale resident who was initially under suspicion of impaired driving after her vehicle struck and killed a well-known local business man last fall. According to news articles, the prosecution essentially cleared 63-year-old Kathleen Gehm of any wrongdoing in the tragic auto-pedestrian collision that resulted in the death of 87-year-old Jerome Some on the evening of October 8.
Based on court records, the DWI and reckless driving charges were dropped by Frank Catania Jr., municipal prosecutor for the city of Hackensack. The motion to dismiss, which was just recently filed, came months after the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office decided not to pursue criminal charges against Ms. Gehm following a negative toxicology report on blood taken from her after the deadly traffic accident. Those toxicology results were returned from the lab last December.
According to news reports, Gehm’s lawyer stated that at the time of the incident his client was “extremely shaken up” and freezing as she stood in the cold evening air in sandals. This information was part of the defense’s argument to the court as to why the woman allegedly failed two field sobriety tests requested of her by police officers at the scene of the crash. As a result of those failed tests, police asked the woman to take a breath test, to which she did consent in hopes of clearing herself of a DWI charge.
However, instead of a breathalyzer test, police gave her a blood test, though no specific reason was given at the time. According to the news report, the woman’s defense attorney stated that none of the police officers detected the smell or odor of alcohol on her, and that the field sobriety tests were only administered because of the extent of victim’s injuries. Because of the change from a breath test to a blood test, the results for blood-alcohol content (BAC) or other substances in the bloodstream take much longer to get back from a laboratory; on the order of weeks to months. (A breath test takes only minutes to provide a BAC reading.)
As New Jersey DWI defense attorneys, my colleagues and I know that being accused of DWI or drug DUI offense, especially in cases involving an injury-related or fatal car crash, can be very upsetting and extremely frightening. Not only can a motorist be physically traumatized by such an event, but the emotional and psychological issues involved in a serious automobile wreck can play havoc with an individual’s ability to perform basic tasks or answer even simple questions. Surely, the mere suggestion by police that a driver may have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of a crash can be quite upsetting to a person who believes they had done nothing illegal.
In the case of Ms. Gehm, the police apparently assumed she was intoxicated due to her poor performance on those two field sobriety tests. But it could be also argued that, having not detected the smell of alcohol on the woman’s breath, the patrolmen may have harbored a suspicion that she was otherwise impaired. This might explain their ordering of a toxicological blood test, which would have a better chance of detecting a possible controlled dangerous substance (CDS) in her bloodstream. According to the news article, the reason for taking her blood, instead of a breath test, was never voiced by the police.
Whatever the reason behind that choice of test, the long wait for those toxicology results would likely have been excruciating for anyone, much less someone who was already under suspicion of causing the wrongful death of another individual while impaired. We can only imagine the angst that Ms. Gehm may have felt during that time. Fortunately, however, justice prevailed in this instance and the charges related to any wrongful actions are now behind this woman. Still, the events of that evening in October can illustrate the difficult situation that many motorists face when being accused of DWI or drug DUI following a severe traffic wreck.
At the time of the news article, Gehm’s attorney had told reporters that his client was still waiting for an apology from the Hackensack PD, which he suggested would be a “nice gesture” on the part of police department officials.
River Vale motorist cleared of wrongdoing in fatal Hackensack car-pedestrian accident, NorthJersey.com, March 12, 2014