Lawrence Paden was traveling on his motorcycle down Manley Road in West Chester. Ahead of him was Kathyrn Kelleher’s vehicle which was stopped, awaiting Karen Lukenda to back out of her driveway. Paden was traveling at a high rate of speed up a hill approaching the others and collided with Kelleher’s car. Once he struck the car, the momentum caused him to slide another 40 feet before hitting a mailbox and a utility pole, which killed him.
The coroner’s report showed that Paden had tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is found in marijuana, in his blood at the time. Paden’s family brought a wrongful death claim against both Kelleher and Lukenda based on negligence. Kelleher settled the matter for an unknown amount before trial; however, the case involving Lukenda continued.
The plaintiff’s attorneys felt that Lukenda had demonstrated a failure in yielding the right-of-way to Kelleher, which led her to stop prior to Paden’s approach. An expert who formed a reconstruction of the incident challenged the report of the state troopers that investigated shortly after the crash. The expert also explained that the troopers were merely guessing as to the speed Paden was traveling just before the point of impact. A pathology expert next explained that there was a lack of scientific data to confirm when Paden has used marijuana or that he was impaired (intoxicated) at the time.
The trooper found that the accident was solely the fault of Paden and that Lukenda had acted correctly in yielding to Kelleher. An expert for Lukenda stated that Paden was traveling at approximately 60 miles per hour at the time. A pharmacology expert for the defense felt that Paden had used marijuana recently and was impaired. The jury decided that Paden was the lone party at fault in the accident.
This case brings to mind the way in which driving under the influence of marijuana is handled, particularly with medical marijuana now legal in Pennsylvania. Experts explained that those with a prescription for medical marijuana may still face DUI charges if their blood is found to contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Ryan Sarkowski, of the PA State Police, said that the federal laws are quite clear that driving with the presence of THC in your system is illegal. The drug is still classified as a Schedule I substance, and it will remain that way until someone changes the laws; therefore, someone could be charged with DUI for having any detection of THC in their bloodstream.
Joe Grace, on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office, explained that when a driver is impaired it is a threat to public safety regardless whether from the use of marijuana or alcohol. It is expected that the state will be addressing legislation regarding driving under the influence of marijuana to clarify any misconceptions.