Alcohol Suspected in Car Crash with Amtrak Train

Over 100 passengers were delayed on Thursday, January 3, when a car crashed into an Amtrak train in Shiawassee County, Michigan.

Reports of a car colliding with a train came in around 9:20 p.m. that day. The Michigan State Police were quickly dispatched to Vernon Township in response. When they arrived at the scene, they found a Chrysler sedan parked in a ditch a short distance away from the stopped train. The driver had already exited the car.

According to Shiawassee County Sheriff Brian Begole, the train hit the car, causing the vehicle to spin off into the ditch before coming to a stop. It was reported that the driver of the car had been driving east and then decided to maneuver around the lowered crossing gates. The vehicle then hit the side of the Amtrak train near the second passenger car. The driver, believed to be a 33-year-old woman, was seen getting out of her car and walking away. According to police, she was later found about a mile from the crash site and was taken to a local hospital for minor injuries. The railroad crossing gates are believed to have been operating correctly and the investigation is considering alcohol to have been a factor.

According to Amtrak officials, the involved train was from the Bluewater Line. It had departed from Chicago with 108 passengers aboard and was headed to Port Huron. Luckily, no injuries were reported among the people onboard. After they were released from the scene around midnight, the passengers were safely transported to their Port Huron destination by bus.

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Statewide DUI Arrest Increase During Holiday Weekends

The California Highway Patrol has released their DUI arrest and fatality statistics for the holiday season that recently passed. However, it is honestly difficult to determine if the constant DUI checkpoints and rideshare options that are now readily available are doing much to make a difference. The CHP announced that there were 1,166 arrests statewide for DUI violations this year, compared to the 917 arrests made in 2017. These arrests were made by CHP officers during the period of 6:00 p.m. Friday, December 21st through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, December 25th. During the New Year holiday weekend, from 6:00 p.m. Friday, December 28th to 12:00 p.m. Tuesday, January 1st, there were 1,053 arrests made statewide compared to the 936 DUI arrests made in 2017.

Fatalities during the Christmas holiday were also up to 34, compared to the 27 reported in 2017. However, thankfully, the New Year’s holiday seemed to fare better as there were 33 reported in 2018, compared to the 40 reported in 2017.

San Diego county appears to be doing well, as some reports are showing that the numbers seem to be going down in that county. During the same Christmas weekend period, there were a reported 56 arrests in 2017, while this number went down to 52 in 2018. Fatalities also went down to two in 2018, from the three reported in 2017. For the New Year’s weekend, 46 DUI arrests were made this year in comparison to the 59 arrests that were made in the previous year. Fatalities decreased from six in 2017 to four in 2018.

Although there was a decrease in arrests in San Diego county, there must have been some major increases in the other counties to have resulted in an overall statewide increase. It is a small comfort to know that the number of reported traffic fatalities are slowly decreasing but it seems that we still have a long way to go in truly having a better understanding of what it means to get behind the wheel after a few drinks of celebration.

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Ignition Interlock Device Law Expansion

In accordance to Senate Bill 1046, a pilot program that was initiated from July 1, 2010, to July 1, 2017, in the counties of Alameda, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Tulare that required, as a condition of being issued a restricted driver’s license, being reissued a driver’s license, or having the privilege to operate a motor vehicle reinstated subsequent to a conviction of a DUI violation, for a person to install for a specified period of time an ignition interlock device on all vehicles he or she owns or operates,” had been extended in those counties until January 2019.

In addition to this extension, the bill stated that starting January 1, 2019 and until January 26, 2026, the requirement for an ignition interlocking device on all vehicles of an individual who license has been suspended for having driving under the influence but is eligible for a restricted driver’s license, will become statewide.

This means that if the suspended individual meets all other eligibility requirements needed to be allowed a restricted license, they would be able to receive that restricted license without serving any suspension time as long as that ignition interlock device is installed. The bill also states that “[t]he bill would authorize that individual to install an ignition interlock device prior to the effective date of the suspension and would require the individual to receive credit towards the mandatory term to install an ignition interlock device, as specified. The bill would require the department to immediately reinstate the suspension of the privilege to operate a motor vehicle upon receipt of notification that a person has engaged in certain activities, including, among others, attempted to remove, bypass, or tamper with the ignition interlock device.”

As the pilot program has already been in effect for the above mentioned counties, no major changes will occur in those areas with the coming new year; however, for any other counties in the state of California, this means that many drivers will be able to start driving to school or work sooner since they will not have to wait out the mandatory suspension period. Monetary issues of installing the device aside, this would be quite helpful in quickly returning to some semblance of normalcy after a DUI conviction, while still taking responsibility for one’s actions and preventing further drunk driving incidents.

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Fontana Woman Involved in the Death of Six on Freeway

Olivia Carolee Culbreath was sentenced on December 5th, 2018 to 30 years to life in prison for the death of six individuals in a wrong way crash on the 60 freeway in Diamond Bar in 2014. The sentencing comes as a result of the open plea that was given to the court and thus leaving the sentencing in the hands of a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, rather than a negotiated plea deal.

The accident happened in the early hours of February 9th, 2014. Culbreath, after having drinks at a bar in Fullerton, drove against traffic on the 57 and 60 freeways in Diamond Bar. Her Chevy Camaro collided head-on with a Ford Explorer, killing all four of the vehicle’s occupants: Huntington Park residents Gregorio Mejia-Martinez, 47; Leticia Ibarra, 42; their daughter, Jessica Mejia, 20; and her grandmother, Ester Delgado, 80. Culbreath’s 24-year-old sister, Maya, and one of Culbreath’s friends, Kristin Young, 21, of Chino, also died in the crash, leaving Culbreath the only survivor of the deadly crash–although with significant injuries of her own. Her first appearance in court had her brought in by stretcher and continuing to receive treatment in the jail ward for her injuries. She was brought in by wheelchair for later hearings.

Nearly three hours after the crash, Culbreath’s blood alcohol content was found to be at 0.15 percent, almost twice that of the legal limit. She had just given birth 11 days before the crash and had spent the days following the birth suffering from postpartum depression.

During the sentencing hearing, she apologized for her actions through tears and was heard saying she asks God for forgiveness every single day. Her attorneys describe her as “extremely remorseful.” And that she had “insisted on pleading no contest to try and spare the victims’ families more pain without the case going to trial.”

The judge took into account that Culbreath was convicted of a DUI in 2010 and had been formally warned by the court regarding the dangers of drunk driving. Her driver’s license had been suspended after the 2010 conviction and had been reinstated December 2011. This conviction was what allowed the prosecutors to charge her with murder for the Diamond Bar crash. The judge rejected the defense’s request for the minimum sentence of 15 to life, however, since Culbreath was 21 at the time of the incident, she will be eligible for parole after 25 years.

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Orange County Doctor Arrested for Selling Opioids Illegally

An Orange County doctor has been arrested on suspicion of illegally selling powerful opioids to a man who is suspected in a DUI crash that killed a Costa Mesa fire captain, as well as selling powerful narcotics to five people who went on to fatally overdose, local officials with the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Dr. Dzung Ahn Pham, 57, faces federal charges and two counts of illegally distributing oxycodone and issuing prescriptions for controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

According to the affidavit in support of the complaint, the doctor, who owns Irvine Village Urgent Care, was selling prescriptions to “patients” who were drug addicts and/or were selling the drugs on the black market. Also, at least five people who received and filled prescriptions from Pham died of drug overdoses from 2014 through 2017, the affidavit stated.

Federal authorities also contend that Pham sent a text message expressing concern that Borderline Bar and Grill mass killer David Ian Long had prescription drugs in his possession that Pham had prescribed for someone else.

Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 25, of Mission Viejo, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 44-year-old Costa Mesa fire Capt. Mike Kreza, was allegedly high on drugs from Pham at the time of the deadly collision on Nov. 3. Prescription bottles with Pham’s name on them were found in Scarpa’s van after the collision, according to a DEA affidavit.

The doctor would charge between $100 and $150 per office visit to the clinic he owned. Between 2013 and September 2018, Pham deposited over $5 million in cash, into bank accounts held by him and his wife. He also approximately deposited $1.7 million into business bank accounts that investigators suspect came from insurance payments.

A CVS pharmacy stopped accepting prescriptions from Pham more than five years ago after the pharmacy could not justify the number of opioid pills the doctor was prescribing, the Justice Department release states.

Pham made his first federal court appearance Tuesday afternoon in Santa Ana and faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted.

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