Was marijuana -- and specifically medical marijuana -- a factor in an accident involving driver Joshua Wittig, seen here, that took the life of John Page Hines, 33, early Friday morning in Thornton? This question is at the heart of an investigation currently being conducted by the North Metro Drug Task Force that goes beyond the crash itself.
Officer Matt Barnes of the Thornton Police Department says that toxicology reports on Wittig, eighteen, are pending, but drug paraphernalia with marijuana residue was found in his vehicle, a Nissan SUV that collided with the motorcycle being ridden by Hines. He adds that the North Metro Drug Task Force is "trying to determine where the suspected driver got his marijuana -- and there are allegations they're looking into that it was possibly medical marijuana."
Task force Commander Jerry Peters confirms that such an investigation is underway.
"It's our understanding that the suspect in the case is a self-proclaimed medical marijuana patient who didn't fill out all the paperwork -- that he got a doctor's recommendation from a Boulder clinic for back pain and then took a partially filled-out application to a dispensary," Peters says. "We're trying to see if there's a loophole in the system that hasn't been recognized where people are trying to buy marijuana illegally, or if this is somebody who's in the system who hasn't been verified yet. We're still in the investigative stages, but we know the medical use of marijuana is involved in the case."
The amount of marijuana in Wittig's system wouldn't matter under current law, although that could change, according to Peters.
"The way I understand it, any illegal substance in the system would be deemed to be impairment," he maintains. "But I think there's going to be a bill in the next legislative system that's going to look at a nanogram limit."
According to Peters, some states have set standards for marijuana impairment similar to familiar ones involving alcohol. For instance, this article from Pennyslvania reports that state's standard for impairment is five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.
"Initially, from a drug investigator's standpoint, I was opposed to something like that," Peters concedes. "But something like this allows people to better understand the levels of intoxication. I don't even know what a nanogram is. But if we could tell someone that, say, five nanograms of marijuana in the system was like someone driving at a .20 blood-alcohol intoxication level -- and I'm not sure that's the case, I'm only giving an example -- I think people would understand it better."
Shoring up the regulations is important, Peters notes, because he foresees a rise in marijuana-related traffic fatalities. "This was a very unfortunate and tragic incident," he says, "And I think we can expect these kinds of things to increase because of the increased use of marijuana. It's been my experience that most people involved in these types of things [marijuana use] are not necessarily always responsible with it, and they have to understand it's not a license to drive a vehicle. Most people understand that, but like with alcohol, some of them still do it. And that compounds the problem we already have with alcohol."
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Page down to read a Thornton PD release about the crash and see a larger version of Wittig's mug shot.
Thornton Police Department release:
Fatal Traffic Accident
On 10-01-10, at approximately 12:19 am, Thornton Police and Fire units were dispatched to the 3200 block of E. Thornton Parkway in reference to reports of a fatal head-on traffic accident involving a motorcycle and SUV.
On scene officers discovered a deceased male lying in the roadway.
Preliminary investigation indicates that several witnesses observed the suspect vehicle a Nissan Exterra traveling westbound in the eastbound lanes in the 3200 block of E. Thornton Parkway just prior to the accident. The SUV, being driven by Joshua Wittig collided head-on with a motorcycle traveling eastbound in the inside lane. The driver of the motorcycle was pronounced deceased at the scene.
The suspect is being investigated for allegedly driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs. Investigators recovered drug paraphernalia with suspected marijuana residue inside the SUV.
Arrested for investigation of Vehicular Homicide was:
Joshua Raymond Wittig Thornton, CO. 80229
The deceased individual has been identified as:
John Page Hines Thornton, CO. 80229
Formal charges are pending filing with the Adams County District Attorneys Office, and results of the toxicology tests.
This case is being investigated jointly by the Thornton Police Department Accident Reconstruction Team and the North Metro Drug Task Force.
Note: The addresses and dates of birth for Wittig and Hines have been removed from the material above, which was made public by the Thornton Police Department.