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Colorado DMV orders driver with alleged diabetic episode to install breathalyzer in car for two years

Posted at 8:47 PM, May 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-08 14:41:34-04

CAÑON CITY- Melvin Thurber spent time in jail, temporarily lost his license and now has to drive with a breathalyzer for a crime he didn’t commit.

Thurber was charged with DUI, but he claims he was having a diabetic episode and needed medical attention.

In the probable cause arrest report, the police officer made statements indicative of someone who is intoxicated, but the doctor who medically cleared Thurber at the hospital contradicts the evidence the officer used to arrest him.

The discrepancies uncovered by News 5 Investigates has Police Chief Daric Harvey taking a second look at the case.

It was just after 11 p.m. on a Friday evening when Thurber says he became disoriented while driving.

“Something happened,” he said. “I just lost track of where I was. I didn’t even know where I was and I started panicking.”

According to police, Thurber was near the intersection of US Highway 50 and Orchard.

“I knew I had to get food because something was wrong with me,” Thurber said.

Thurber believes he was having a problem connected to his diabetes and needed food in his system.

An officer pulled him over just yards away from a restaurant parking lot.

“I said to the officer that I don’t know what’s going on with me,” Thurber told News 5. “I believe it’s my diabetes. I think my sugar is really low and I’m trying to get to a restaurant.”

Prior to the traffic stop, the officer said Thurber was weaving in and out of lanes.

News 5 Investigates filed an open records request to obtain any body-worn camera video or dash camera video of the incident. The records division told us that no camera footage existed.

“Unfortunately right now we don’t have the budget to put dash cameras in every vehicle,” Chief Daric Harvey said. “At the point that Mr. Thurber was contacted by our officer, we didn’t have a dash camera in the officer’s car.”

Harvey says all of his officers will soon be equipped with body cameras which will help the public see what officers witness during encounters with the public. The video can also be crucial in court.

Details surrounding the traffic stop:

Thurber was pulled over at 11:06 p.m. The officer said his eyes were “constricted”, his eyelids were “droopy” and that he appeared “drowsy”.

The officer also said Thurber’s speech was “slurred” and his voice was “raspy”. He also noted Thurber’s body movements appeared “sluggish” and “lethargic”.

The doctor’s report: 

Thurber was evaluated by a doctor 51 minutes after the traffic stop—at 11:57 p.m.

Medical notes obtained by News 5 Investigates paint a much different picture.

The doctor said Thurber was “alert”, his eyes were fine, he was “calm”, “cooperative” and “pleasant”. The doctor also stated that Thurber did not appear intoxicated.

It’s a report Harvey says he hasn’t seen before.

Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross asked, “Are the discrepancies in the report a concern to you?”

Anytime there is conflicting information from what we see in our investigation, we are bound to follow up on that,” Harvey said. “The report you provided us from the hospital, we did not have that at the time of the investigation.”

News 5 Investigates also discovered the arresting officer was not a certified drug recognition expert at the time of Thurber’s arrest.

Certified drug recognition experts have intense training and can determine whether impairment is related to alcohol, drugs or perhaps a medical issue.

The officer who made the arrest only had an ARIDE certification, according to Harvey.

ARIDE is a roadside impaired driving education certification that teaches officers the basics of conducting field sobriety exercises.

The field sobriety test: 

Instead of immediately being taken to the hospital, Thurber was asked if he wanted to submit to a field sobriety test (breathalyzer).

Thurber says he declined and asked for medical attention.

For whatever reason at the hospital, a blood sample was not collected and Cañon City police never asked for a court order to get one.

Ross asked, “If someone doesn’t consent (or refuses) a field sobriety test, why not get a court order to draw their blood?”

“Those (court orders) are reserved for very serious cases,” Chief Harvey explained. “In other words, if an individual has multiple felony DUI arrests prior to that and they were actual convictions or if someone was actually injured during the DUI or there was a crash involved, that would warrant that next step of making sure that we had all evidence to ensure a successful prosecution.”

The criminal case against Thurber quickly fell apart.

The case never went to trial because the District Attorney’s Office tossed it out.

However, that didn’t stop the DMV from revoking Thurber’s license.

In a letter dated “January 16, 2019“, the DMV told Thurber he can get his license back by paying a $95 reinstatement fee, taking a level II drug and alcohol class and installing an ignition interlock device (IID), also known as a portable breathalyzer system.

Thurber says he needs his car and no longer has his son to drive him to appointments, so he reluctantly complied.

“I’m so frustrated with all of this,” Thurber said. “If you’re innocent, I don’t just give up.”

The DMV required Thurber to pay $100 to have the breathalyzer installed.

He also had to pay a “monitoring fee” of $73.97, a daily “loss protection fee” of $8.88 and a $25 “administrative fee” for a total installation cost of $207. That cost does not factor in the $165 payment Thurber has to make every 67 days for the next two years.

“I had nowhere else to turn so that’s why I called (KOAA-TV),” Thurber said. “Maybe somebody will hear the story and maybe somebody can touch them and talk to them (the DMV).”

We attempted multiple times by phone and email to reach the DMV, which operates under the Colorado Dept. of Revenue.

First attempt: 

The DMV released the following statement:

“We cannot comment on a specific individual,” spokesperson Sarah Werner said. “Dismissal of the criminal case does not negate or diminish the effect of administrative law as it relates to any suspension or revocation of the driving privilege. Administrative sanctions would depend on the offender and whether or not they are a first-time offender, submitted to chemical testing of their blood or breath and other factors.”

In other words, the DMV plays by its own rules and can make decisions on whether to revoke someone’s license and require a breathalyzer regardless of whether someone is convicted.

Second attempt: 

Since the DMV declined to comment on a specific case, News 5 Investigates offered the opportunity to talk generically about the DMV’s decision-making process for revoking licenses and requiring breathalyzers.

Through the department’s spokesperson, Lu Cordova, the newly appointed executive director for the Department of Revenue declined.

“We are not able to grant an interview on this topic,” she said. “Because there are so many variables associated with different offenses, it is difficult to speak generically.”

Third attempt: 

With Thurber’s permission, we tried once again to ask about his case after the DMV declined to talk generically about their processes and procedures. We even offered to have Thurber sign a privacy waiver.

Werner declined.

“The DMV has an obligation to protect the privacy of residents who entrust us with their information,” she said. “As such, we will not provide a media interview about a specific person or situation. We stand ready to assist individuals with any DMV-related questions they may have, but we cannot help them to resolve their questions via the media.”

It’s important to note that Thurber only reached out to News 5 Investigates for help after he says he waited hours on the phone trying to talk with anyone at the DMV about his case.

“They don’t seem to care about the real truth,” Thurber said. “Nobody seems to care.”

Unlike the DMV, the Canon City Police Department has promised to fact-check the case based on our investigation.

“The information you gave us is new,” Harvey said. “Our goal is to do the best investigations that we can and be as transparent and accountable as possible and so with this case and any others, if we made mistakes, we’ll absolutely own up to them and learn from them and try and make them right as best we can.”

It’s important to note that Harvey was not the police chief at the time of Thurber’s arrest.

For now, Thurber is required to blow into an interlock breathalyzer device every time he gets in his car—it’s a reminder of the crime that he didn’t commit, at least not in the eyes of the justice system.

“All I want is a fair shake and somebody ‘ought to know what the real truth is,” Thurber said.

The DMV says Thurber has a right to request a hearing within a “statutorily-defined” timeline.

Thurber provided us a document he reportedly sent, asking for a hearing regarding this matter.

It’s unclear about the status of that request.

This is a developing story and will be updated with new information as it becomes available.

Frequently asked questions: 

Q: The DUI occurred a few years ago. Why are you covering this case now?

A: DUI-related cases are not like speeding tickets and aren’t resolved overnight. In some cases, DUI cases can drag on for months or years with restrictions and court proceedings. News 5 was alerted to this case in February 2019. However, we spent a significant amount of time fact-checking and gathering details surrounding this case before going to air.

Q: You pointed our inconsistencies between the officer’s arrest report and the medical clearance report. Does this indicate the officer lied?

A: Absolutely not. People who have diabetic episodes can appear drunk and disoriented. Mr. Thurber does not dispute that he was disoriented at the time he was pulled over. He says before he was taken to the hospital and prior to booking, he ate a piece of candy he found in his center console and started to feel a lot better. This likely explains why he appeared in good health when evaluated by medical staff 51 minutes after the traffic stop. Law enforcement sources tell News 5 the “remarkable” improvement should have been a red flag that Thurber may have been having a medical issue vs. being intoxicated on alcohol or drugs. The officer made the arrest based on his observations at the time of the stop, not the medical report.

Q: Does Mr. Thurber have anything on his record that would have impacted the officer’s decision to arrest Thurber or the DMV’s decision to revoke his license and require a breathalyzer?

A: Police typically cannot use old cases to arrest someone on a new charge. They make an arrest based on the facts and evidence presented with the particular “crime” they are investigating. Using our court system database and going back two decades, we did find a misdemeanor DUI-conviction from the 1990’s. However, in the last decade, the only traffic-related conviction we could find was a speeding ticket in 2012. A conviction means that someone has been charged with a violation or crime and was either found guilty or pleaded guilty. News 5 reports on cases that result in convictions, but we typically do not report on cases that are dropped or dismissed by the DA. Since the DMV declined to discuss this case, it’s unclear whether these two matters impacted their decision to require Thurber install a breathalyzer. However, we do know this action followed the arrest and subsequent acquittal of the Canon City DUI-case.

Q: Why didn’t you name the officer in your story? 

A: We chose not to name the officer pending further investigation from police.

Q: I got a DUI. Now what?

A: Click here for more information on the process.