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Car driver in fatal bike crash won't be prosecuted

Asst. DA: Driver's view was impaired by another vehicle

Posted: September 2, 2014 - 11:00pm

ANCHORAGE — An Anchorage man whom prosecutors said smoked marijuana the day he fatally struck a bicyclist will not be charged with a crime, the city’s Department of Law has decided.

Assistant District Attorney Daniel Shorey in an Aug. 22 letter released Tuesday by Anchorage police said TJ Justice had not exhibited signs of impaired driving before the crash and that his view of the bicyclist was impaired by a station wagon in the next lane.

“I cannot reach the conclusion that the collision was Justice’s fault or that it was his drug use that created or enhanced the risk of a collision,” Shorey said.

Justice on Jan. 2 was driving west in the middle lane of Northern Lights Boulevard near Minnesota Boulevard and struck Eldridge Griffith, 65, who was crossing against traffic in the middle of a block. The crash was captured by surveillance video recorded at a Carrs-Safeway grocery store.

The speed limit was 35 mph, and police concluded that Justice was traveling at 41 mph, not high enough to be considered reckless.

As Griffith’s bike left the sidewalk, a station wagon was forced to make a wide turn to avoid hitting him. A driver next to Griffith and behind the station wagon slowed. Prosecutors concluded the station wagon shielded Justice’s view and he had 1.5 seconds to react to the bike in the center lane.

Justice told police afterward that he had medical conditions for which he took prescription drugs. He acknowledged smoking marijuana before going to bed the night before the crash. He denied smoking the day of the accident, but toxicology results indicated that he had smoked, prosecutors said.

Justice was not given a standardized field sobriety test because of his limited mobility and pre-existing medical condition. He voluntarily gave a blood sample.

Prosecutors had to determine whether he would be charged with criminally negligent homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, does not automatically lead to a DUI conviction under Alaska law, Shorey wrote.

“Instead, the evidence as a whole, including blood tests, erratic driving, and roadside sobriety test results, must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was impaired,” he wrote, the same as other medications that can impair a driver.

The toxicologist considered the lack of field sobriety testing, Justice’s physical disabilities, the bike entering the roadway against traffic and the absence of observed impaired driving by Justice, Shorey said.

“The toxicologist would not opine that it was the impairing effects of the marijuana that caused Justice to fail to perceive Griffith in the roadway and avoid the bicyclist,” Shorey wrote.

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