In light of the recent news regarding the DUI case involving a woman in New York and her confirmed diagnosis of Auto Brewery Syndrome, a little clarification is in order. There are two main areas I’d like to address, and as usual, I make no promises regarding the brevity (mainly the lack) of this interlude. The first area will cover the situation with ABS as it pertains to the woman in New York and the course of the legal portion of the ABS syndrome. The second area will cover the similarities and differences between her situation and mine.
The link to the news story provided below gives a nominal amount of information about the case in New York. I encourage you to read it, and leave it up to you to decide if you would like to read the comments. (You may have to sign in on their site.) I generally preach abstinence when dealing with online news article comment sections, but I have a clearly vested interest in knowing what “Joe” and “Jane” think and/or have to say about the subject. (Generally speaking, a disconcerting number of those who comment do not appear to read more than a few sentences beyond the headlines, if at all, before commenting. Or their reading comprehension skills and retention abilities are as sharp as cotton balls. But you already knew that—pardon the digression).
Whether you read the comments or not, you will note the basic facts within the article itself:
Court records are sealed, so details such as names are omitted. A woman in upstate New York had a few drinks while having lunch with her husband over a few hours, was driving home when she had a flat tire. Being close to home, she drove on, but was pulled over by the police before arriving at her house. The officer on scene noted slurred speech and erratic behavior, and performed a breathalyzer test on the woman. She registered a Blood Alcohol Content of 0.33, and was taken to the hospital due to the seriousness of the medical implications of such a high BAC. She did not remain at the hospital for a long period of time because she was not exhibiting physical signs of extreme BAC or getting worse. She was charged with DUI, but while still exhibiting a positive BAC later, was observed for an extended period of time maintaining a BAC in the 0.30 range without ingesting alcohol, as attested to by several independent medical personnel on scene to ensure that no outside influences occurred.
Subsequently, she was tested in multiple ways to determine the cause of the rise in BAC. The results of those tests, performed by the leading experts on the syndrome and related GI conditions, confirmed that she did indeed suffer from ABS. The values shown by those tests are unique to ABS, and are not found in such a combination with any other condition. As a result, the presiding judge for the case dismissed it before the trial even began, since the evidence precluded holding a meaningless trial at all. The District Attorney filed an appeal at the beginning of the year, but has since dropped that appeal, citing the lack of merit that their appeal held.
Shifting the focus to look at my experience with ABS and the legal system, the many similarities become divergent once deep into the legal system of Lane County, Oregon. In the interest of brevity (I know, “too late!”), I’ll assume that if you are reading this, you have probably read at least some of the previous entries regarding my ABS diagnosis. If not, you’ll find all the info you need within previous postings, though certainly none of the coffee and wherewithal needed to get through it in one sitting. A short summary:
I was involved in an accident at the end of 2014, with injuries severe enough to land a multi-day stay in the hospital. A high BAC reading at the hospital several hours after the accident was the first indication of something amiss. Due to the incapacitation caused by injury, I did not get the benefit of observation for cause of the high BAC. I knew nothing of ABS at the time, and had no idea that I had it. It took several months after medication and surgery before there was an inkling that something was wrong. There were multiple occasions over the spring and summer of 2015 when I suffered from ABS “flares” or “episodes”. During three separate such events, I went to the hospital seeking to have blood drawn and monitored. All three times, I was admitted, examined, and told that I could not stay for observation because I was not showing signs of my life being immediately threatened, and beds were needed for other patients. (These visits are part of my medical record, subpoenaed and present for the court during my trial.)
On another occasion during the Fall of 2015, Sierra and I were invited to dinner at the house of friends of ours. I experienced a flare that day, and with breathalyzer in hand (it goes everywhere I go, discreetly), we told them exactly what was going on. They offered to observe, and over the course of a little more than six hours, watched as my BAC varied from between 0.14 to 0.19 while sitting at their dining room table. I ingested water and soup that they provided, and was never alone. All data recorded, of course. Predicting a flare or episode has proven nearly impossible, and completely frustrating. Having impartial observers under prime conditions is something I would have loved to have fall into my lap. Prior to treatment, it could be mere hours between episodes, or multiple weeks.
I was also tested by the same experts that handled the case of the woman in New York. I was informed that I had a positive diagnosis of Auto Brewery Syndrome, confirmed by additional testing. The values of those results are a unique combination that quantify ABS.
My trial was delayed multiple times by request of the District Attorney once ABS was diagnosed, and didn’t take place until January of 2016. A pre-trial hearing took place first, and occupied the entire day before the regular trial was to commence. The purpose of this pre-trial hearing was to present the evidence of ABS as a syndrome in total, and also as a particular with regard to my accident and medical issues. The judge confirmed that Auto Brewery Syndrome is a real medical condition for the sake of recognition by the court. She also confirmed that the doctor involved in my diagnosis (the same one in the New York case) was the leading expert on the syndrome, and that my diagnosis was valid.
We learned later that evening after the pre-trial hearing had adjourned, via e-mail, that the evidence and testimonies would not be allowed in the trial, and that such evidence and testimony would not be dealt with on the circuit court level. In essence, “take it to the Appeals and Supreme Courts, I’m not rocking the boat”. Oregon has a “strict liability” law. In a nutshell, if you are intoxicated or impaired, it doesn’t matter how you got that way. The law exists because it prevents such frivolous excuses such as “Somebody must have spiked my drink!” or, “I was at a party, and somebody blew it in my face!” etc. I understand the need for such legislation for these types of scenarios. A medical condition does not fit that scenario, however. (Unless a person with a known pre-existing medical condition does not control it when they are able, and still choose to drive.)
In New York, a judge recognized that there was no need for trial in the judicial system because it had already occurred in the medical system--the evidence was overwhelming. The court’s time was not wasted, as they chose to spend it in a more fruitful endeavor.
This is the beauty of medical science conducted correctly: No matter how unbelievable the initial prognosis may seem, the end result bears the truth.
So, the District Attorney in New York dropped the appeal for good reason. Undoubtedly, the DA’s office looked at every angle in an attempt to discredit the diagnosis of the patient, and probably the actual science of ABS, a syndrome that has been officially recorded as early as 1938. The DA is there to win cases, above all else. When faced with a dead end, the prudent course of action is to direct efforts elsewhere. The Circuit Court system of Lane County Oregon has not yet wielded pragmatism, much less prudence, in regard to the direction of Auto Brewery Syndrome.
So, there are many similarities between the situation in New York, and the one here in Oregon. I can guarantee at least one glaring, definitive difference going forward however, regardless the outcome:
There will be nothing anonymous or sealed in the future about Auto Brewery Syndrome on this end, and you can be sure that I’ll see that through.
Thank you for reading.