Dramatic Bluff Street crash raises the question: Does ‘I blacked out’ release driver from fault?

ST. GEORGE — A crash in December involving a driver reportedly traveling at a high rate of speed on Bluff Street triggered a deluge of reader comments and questions regarding the speed, the cause and the statement one of the drivers made to officers that day.

The collision occurred Dec. 6 when a black Lexus struck a GMC pickup truck near 800 S. Bluff Street, where the force of the impact flipped the truck over and tore it apart, leaving a debris field that extended farther than the length of a football field.

Read more: Lexus reportedly going 85 mph on Bluff Street slams into truck

According to multiple witness statements, the Lexus was traveling at an estimated speed of 85 mph. One witness, who was waiting at a light on 100 South and Bluff Street, observed the Lexus pass through the intersection and called 911 to report the reckless driving, telling the operator the car was going at least 85 mph.

The driver continued at a high rate of speed for nearly eight blocks before striking the pickup truck.

According to basic calculations made after the crash, the Lexus’s speed was estimated to be in excess of 90.88 miles per hour at the point of impact, St. George Police Officer Ken Childs told St. George News Dec. 8.

Those calculations took into account road and weather conditions, distance from the point of impact to where the vehicles came to rest and information obtained from a video of the crash and later released to police.

That video was obtained from police and can be seen at the top of this report.

The driver told officers that he “blacked out, and didn’t remember anything that happened but could provide no other information,” Childs said, leaving police with some doubt as to the driver’s claim. The man was later cited for reckless driving.

An individual claiming to be a close friend of the Lexus driver sent an email asserting that the story didn’t portray what really happened that day, writing  that the crash was “due to a serious medical issue that the driver had on the road that caused him to lose consciousness while driving.”

St. George News attempted to contact the person for more information but has yet to receive a response.

How often is unconsciousness reported as the cause of a crash?

Accidents caused by the sudden loss of consciousness are uncommon compared to crashes caused by speeding, tailgating, failure to signal and other driving errors.

Drivers can blame collisions  on medical complications, including heart attacks, diabetic episodes, seizures, strokes, severe sneezing, cramps, reaction to medicines, mental delusions or other conditions, whether it actually occurred or not. There is also the question of whether unconsciousness was a cause, or a result, of the crash.

Utah, along with most states, recognize the “sudden medical emergency defense,” which can relieve a driver from liability if they suffer an unforeseen medical emergency that causes an accident. Under this premise, the driver did not act negligently, so they should not be held responsible for something that was beyond their control, and that they could not have foreseen.

This is covered in Section 31 of the Utah Traffic Code, which says that liability insurance will cover damages if the driver is stricken by an “unforeseeable” seizure, paralysis or other unconscious condition, and who is “not reasonably aware” that the condition is about to occur.

The burden of proof lies on the driver to show they lost consciousness before the accident occurred, that the loss of consciousness caused the loss of control of the vehicle and that it was an unforeseeable medical emergency.

An unexpected medical emergency is one that can make them incapable of physically controlling the vehicle, and include the following conditions:

  • Heart attacks.
  • Seizures.
  • Fainting.
  • Sudden drops in blood pressure.
  • Diabetic episodes.
  • Strokes.
  • Mental delusions.
  • Bad reactions to medication.

In several recent automobile crashes drivers claimed they blacked out, and can’t remember anything before or during the crash, leaving officers to determine the cause by gathering as much information as possible, including witness statements, measurements, condition of the vehicles and other details that are analyzed and compared to the driver’s statements.

St. George Police officer Dave McDaniel said that once a driver tells an officer they either don’t remember the crash or blacked out, police continue to investigate other actions or issues that could have caused or contributed to the crash.

“Depending on the situation, we generally look into other possible causes and don’t necessarily take that statement at face value, because it may, or may not, be accurate,” McDaniel said.

One of the first things they look at is the driver’s cell phone, he said, to see if they were texting or on the internet just before the crash occurred.

Retired St. George Police Sgt. Craig Harding said that claims of unconsciousness generally require documentation from the driver’s physician, outlining the condition that could have caused the episode, or they are required to see their physician concerning the incident.

Harding went on to say that DMV can be notified of the condition as well.

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles,  a Utah driver can be disqualified from using the medical emergency defense if the driver:

  • Had previous knowledge of their medical condition.
  • Have been given instructions by their doctor not to drive.
  • Did not eat or drink enough throughout the day, which might cause a drop in blood pressure.
  • Have had previous issues with their health relating to the incident.
  • Have received explicit warnings not to drive while using certain medications.

There are also licensing requirements that go along with any condition that can cause the driver to black out, or lose consciousness, and DMV accepts reports of potentially unsafe drivers from police officers, the courts, physicians, family members, friends, other citizens and hospital.

If DMV receives notification of such a driver, that individual can be required to undergo a medical evaluation. This also holds true if the driver contributes to an accident that results in a fatality, or after accumulating a given number of crashes within a certain time period as well.

Should the individual lose driving privileges, a medical evaluation and letter from his physician is required to issue another driver’s license or lift the restrictions.

Experts say that when an individual goes through a traumatic event, the brain is only concerned with the most basic function – the flight or flight response, and oftentimes this helps the individual to think clearly enough to find an escape route. This comes at a cost, though, which is a diminished ability to form memories, according to Scientific American.

While that scenario explains the inability to remember an event after it occurred, it doesn’t explain what causes a driver to black out before an event takes place.

This report is based on statements from police or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

 

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

Posted in Local, NewsTagged , , , , , ,

12 Comments

  • DRT January 23, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    I believe that anytime a person makes a statement to a LEO that a “medical condition” caused an accident, that person’s driving privilege should be suspended until the driver can furnish medical proof that they can safely operate a vehicle. I believe that the investing officer should be able to confiscate the driver license, and turn it over to the licensing agency. I believe this should be mandatory any time a medical excuse is claimed, and no matter if the driver is a Utah resident or not.
    I’d bet this would drop the medical excuses in most cases.

  • Caveat_Emptor January 23, 2018 at 3:41 pm

    I am not a doctor, but I have to wonder about the ability of a specific patient to control their blood glucose level, to avoid a “diabetic episode”, or another patient to avoid a negative reaction, as a result of their medication.
    Medications carry enormous instructions for use, with an encyclopedia full of contra-indications. Your doctor is responsible to help their patients understand, in layman’s terms, the implications.
    There is a significant personal responsibility associated with driving a car, or truck. I would hope there is a high hurdle to avoid the consequences for negligent operation of a vehicle.

  • HB Gilly January 23, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    The fact that the driver maintained that high rate of speed (90 mph) for 8 blocks on busy Bluff Street, while supposedly unconscious, tells me the likely cause was reckless driving, not a black out. why is this even being questioned? what are the odds of being unconscious and doing 90 mph down bluff street for more than 8 blocks before having a collision??

    • desertgirl January 23, 2018 at 6:51 pm

      During a blackout, seizure, heart attack, etc. it is not unusual for the foot to remain on either of the pedals, wherever it is at the onset of event. Actually, it sounds even more likely, being as it happened on a city street, that he or she did black-out.

      • Mean Momma January 23, 2018 at 10:58 pm

        It may not be unusual for the foot to remain on the petal but VERY UNUSUAL to be able to steer clear of anything in your path as well as curves in the road. Pretty much impossible to drive that far “blacked out” without hitting something or going off the road.

  • indy-vfr January 23, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    You are absolutely correct, but they’d still get behind the wheel!

  • comments January 23, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    A lot of these very age people or those with severe medical problems know full well they should not be driving but continue to do so anyway. They are fully at fault regardless of criminal intent. If you kill someone on the roads blaming on your medical episode isn’t gonna make that victim’s family feel any better. I HOPE A LOT OF YOU OLD TIMERS WILL CONSIDER HANDING IN THE LICENSE. YOU KNOW IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

    • desertgirl January 23, 2018 at 6:57 pm

      Sometimes things happen that is not due to ‘fault’. What a sick world when anything that happens must be someones fault. Thing happen that are truly ‘accident’s and some are not necessarily avoidable. We have no control over when we might have a heart attack or a seizure. No fault; it’s life. If you can’t handle it, stay home. Then pray or however you want to live and take your chances there isn’t a earthquake, a plane crashing into your home. We lock away enough people for real crimes, we don’t need to invent more.

      • comments January 23, 2018 at 10:51 pm

        like i say dg fault doesn’t have to mean criminal. Replace the word fault with cause. I’m not saying lock their ass up for years, but they dont get a free pass either. they very well should be financially liable for the accident even beyond what their insurance covers. In that respect, it is fault. The criminal or neglegence aspect will have to be judged case by case.

  • DRT January 23, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    I happen to be one of the senior citizens, (aka old farts,) in the area. I would welcome having the DMV do a road test each year on anyone 60 or older. Yeah, it would be a PITA for us, but it sure could save some lives.

  • comments January 23, 2018 at 10:54 pm

    if ur gonna black out and ram the pedal down, best to be in a slower car. These lexuses(lexus’s?), well, they move pretty quick……..

  • Honor1st January 24, 2018 at 6:51 am

    Was the event an unforeseen medical event OR
    Had the driver chosen to use substances known to impair mental function ( including alcohol or prescription drugs ) ?

Leave a Reply