POPPY SEEDS TIED TO DUI ACQUITTAL
Using poppy-seed muffins as a defense, a Lake Forest man was acquitted Monday of driving with a controlled substance in his system in the death of a 15-year-old boy three years ago.
Charles Hausberg, 20, of the 1400 block of North Green Bay Road was found guilty of making an illegal U-turn.
"The court cannot say that the only cause for this could be the ingestion of an illegal drug," said Lake County Associate Judge Patrick Lawler in rendering his verdict. "The court has no alternative but to find this young man not guilty."
Hausberg was driving on Central Avenue in downtown Highland Park in October 2002 when he tried to make a U-turn at Central and St. Johns Avenue, according to testimony. He drove into the oncoming lane, causing Paul Gitlin of Evanston to swerve.
Gitlin hit the accelerator rather than the brakes, and his car jumped the curb and hit Joshua Rothstein, 15, of Wilmette walking on the sidewalk, said Chuck Smith, who prosecuted the case for Highland Park.
Gitlin was ticketed for negligent driving.
Morphine, which is an opiate, was found in Hausberg's blood and urine, Smith said. Morphine is a controlled substance, and it is illegal for people to drive in Illinois with the drug in their system, he said, noting that the law does not require a person to be impaired.
Hausberg said he ate several poppy-seed muffins the night before the accident and several on the day it happened. Poppy seeds can contain opiates, and Hausberg's consumption of muffins explains why there was morphine in his bloodstream and urine, his attorney Tom Moran said.
Cynthia Woods, a chemist at the Northern Illinois Crime Lab, and James O'Donnell, a pharmacologist hired as an expert witness for Hausberg, testified that poppy-seed consumption can result in a person testing positive for opiates.
"There's no way to state with certainty that the defendant consumed any illegal substances," O'Donnell said.
Woods said she could not identify the source of morphine in Hausberg's system.
In his closing statement, Smith said: "Is it credible that this young man came home and consumed 20 poppy-seed muffins?
"The poppy-seed defense is contrived. It's forced."
Hausberg was fined $500 and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service helping children. He must attend a victim-impact panel and attend a program on substance abuse.
Rothstein's parents said they were disappointed that Hausberg never apologized or offered condolences.
"The defendant never saw fit to help another family in its time of need," Stephen Rothstein said after the verdict.