Driver had ‘dangerous’ levels of opioids, sedatives on night of deadly crash, expert says

Beth Brogan | BDN
Beth Brogan | BDN
Danielle Ward, 35, of Hope (center), sits with her attorneys, Annie Stevens, left, and William Maselli, right, during a hearing Tuesday in West Bath District Court. Ward is accused of manslaughter and aggravated operating under the influence following a January 2017 Woolwich crash that killed a Woolwich couple.
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“At a level that high, I would have serious concerns about breathing well and standing up, that kind of thing.”
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WEST BATH, Maine — The head of the Northern New England Poison Center told a judge on Tuesday that a Hope woman charged with manslaughter in the deaths of a Woolwich couple had a “dangerous” amount of opioids, sedatives and other drugs on the night of the January 2017 crash.

Danielle Ward, 35, was driving a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe with seven children on Route 1 at about 6 p.m. Jan. 21, 2017, when she allegedly veered into the southbound lane and collided with a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe driven by 70-year-old Robert Martin, Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said at the time.

Martin died at the scene of the crash. His wife, Carolyn Martin, 76, a passenger in the Hyundai, was flown by LifeFlight of Maine helicopter to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston where she was pronounced dead.

[Woman charged with manslaughter, OUI after Route 1 crash that killed couple]

A southbound 2013 Ford Explorer driven by William King, 63, of Dudley, Massachusetts, struck Ward’s vehicle.

Ward and three of the seven children who were riding with her were taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland with non-life-threatening injuries. Neither King nor his passenger were injured.

Ward was indicted in June 2017 on two counts of Class A felony manslaughter, as well as seven other felonies and misdemeanors including aggravated operating under the influence and endangering the welfare of a child.

On Tuesday, her attorneys asked Justice Daniel Billings to exclude as evidence the blood and alcohol samples taken from Ward that night at Maine Medical Center.

Sagadahoc County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Baroody, who is prosecuting the case with District Attorney Jon Liberman, called several witnesses who testified to the procedure for testing blood and urine samples for alcohol and drugs.

[Police: Improper pass caused crash that killed 4]

Donna Papsun, a toxicologist of NMS Labs in Pennsylvania, testified by video that her lab found the drugs alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan), both benzodiazepines; Oxycodone and Oxymorphone, both opoid painkillers; and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in Ward’s blood.

Dr. Karen Simone, director of the Northern New England Poison Center, testified that the 120 nanograms per milliliter of oxycodone found in Ward’s blood several hours after the crash was “very high,” and said, “At a level that high, I would have serious concerns about breathing well and standing up, that kind of thing.”

She said that combined with the amount of alprazolam found in her blood was also high, and said, “That suggests this is a person who has been taking opioids for awhile and is somewhat tolerant. One [drug] has drowsiness as a side effect and the other one is deliberately used to make you fall asleep. The fact that you could walk around or interact with people, or even drive a car, suggests to me there’s some long-term use. [If it were me], I’d probably not be awake, and I’d be more concerned about my breathing.”

Ward was previously convicted of OUI twice in the past 10 years, according to the indictment, including a 2013 conviction in Rockland District Court.

According to Simone, witnesses said Ward was talking to them and operating the vehicle, but “crossing the center line and had a hard time keeping her eyes open.”

[Prosecutors serve a vital role in battling the opioid epidemic]

William Maselli, who with Annie Stevens represents Ward, asked witnesses various questions about the process of collecting the samples.

To Simone, he said, “Whatever conclusions you come up with, they’re only as good as the data you receive, correct?”

He suggested “a mistake in a laboratory” could have caused the extremely high results, to which Simone said, “I’ve never had that happen.” She added that when the state needed a lab for the 2003 arsenic poisonings in the town of Sweden, they sent them to National Medical Services.

Justice Daniel Billings said he would rule later on a proposed witness for the defense, toxicologist Patrick Demers. He will also rule on the proposed motion to exclude the evidence.


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