An off-duty Nevada Highway Patrol sergeant who last month triggered a three-car accident that left one person dead had more marijuana in his system than state law permits while driving, according to a police report.
Nevada law does make allowances for drivers who test positive for trace amounts of marijuana that could be ingested secondhand.
Sgt. Edward Lattin, a 22-year NHP veteran who supervises a team that investigates fatal crashes, voluntarily submitted to a blood test that determined he had exceeded those legal limits, a Las Vegas police official said.
Lattin, 46, was arrested Tuesday on one felony count of drug-related driving under the influence resulting in death. He remained in the Clark County Detention Center on Wednesday night for his role in the June 11 accident that claimed the life of 49-year-old Ying Warren near Rainbow Boulevard and Hacienda Avenue.
Lattin's arrest caused some experts familiar with Nevada's law to argue that although he had marijuana in his system, it's difficult to determine if the drug impaired his driving. Marijuana can stay in a person's blood for more than a month after ingested.
Lattin's crash stirred echoes of Jessica Williams' March 2000 crash.
Williams mowed over six teenagers collecting trash in the median of Interstate 15. The six victims died.
Testimony at the trial showed Williams and a friend used the drug Ecstasy about 10 hours before the crash. She and the friend smoked marijuana about two hours before the accident.
Williams was convicted of driving with prohibited substances in her blood, although a jury found she was not impaired during the time of the crash. She is serving a prison sentence of 18 to 48 years. The Nevada Supreme Court upheld her conviction in 2002.
According to the police report, Lattin had 5.6 nanograms per milliliter of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in his system before it was metabolized, and 26 nanograms per milliliter of THC in his blood after it was metabolized. THC is the active substance in marijuana.
State law allows drivers to have in their bodies 2 nanograms per milliliter of THC before it is metabolized and 5 nanograms per milliliter of THC after it is metabolized.
The law allows for trace levels of marijuana to be in a person's system while driving because of issues with secondhand exposure, experts said.
Metropolitan Police Department Deputy Chief for the Special Operations Division Joe Lombardo said there was no indication that Lattin had smoked marijuana before the accident.
He said officers didn't find any marijuana in Lattin's truck and didn't smell marijuana in the air.
Lattin was arrested Tuesday because police were following the letter of the law.
"All we can say is that he was under the influence, but it doesn't mean he was impaired," Lombardo said.
Lattin volunteered to take an alcohol breath test and a blood test, Lombardo said, adding there was no proof that Lattin had experienced a diabetic episode as he claimed.
Lattin was not arrested at the site of the crash.
Lombardo said he didn't know if the amount of marijuana found in Lattin's blood was considered large but said that in his experience, "that level wouldn't indicate a secondhand introduction to the body."
Lattin remains on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation, said Daniel Burns, a spokesman with the Nevada Department of Public Safety. Burns said the highway patrol does not give random drug tests to its officers.
Robert Langford, a local defense attorney who has represented clients charged with marijuana offenses, questioned why someone with the highway patrol would volunteer to take a blood test if he had recently ingested pot.
"I tell my clients, if you smoked marijuana within the last 30 days, someone is going to know," Langford said. "Obviously, we know he smoked marijuana in the last 30 days."
Neal Levine, a campaign manager for a 2006 initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana in Nevada, said the state law on driving while having marijuana in the system is absurd.
Levine increased Langford's estimate and said marijuana can stay in a person's body for up to 45 days.
"The current Nevada law sends people to prison for a crime they didn't actually commit, which is vehicular homicide," Levine said.
He said the law theoretically dictates that marijuana smokers are intoxicated for 45 days, or the amount of time it takes for the drug to leave the body. That is not a fair standard, Levine said.
Levine, Langford and Lombardo refused to speculate on when Lattin might have used the drug.
where does SWIY get that good 45-day high skunk?