Test shows teen driver in fatal car crash was drunk

Driver was below legal limit but still intoxicated

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE - Toxicology results released by police Wednesday show the 19-year-old man who crashed head-on into an Anchorage police officer last month had a blood-alcohol content of 0.091.

Police initially suspected Robert Esper was driving while intoxicated when an officer attempted to stop him about 3:20 a.m. July 9. Esper and nine other teen-agers had attended a get-together at a nearby trailer that night where alcohol was present.

"Based on his initial driving behavior and his erratic driving, the officer suspected he was a drunken driver," said Detective Everett Robbins. "This confirms her initial observations."

Esper fled from police for more than half an hour before running into Officer Justin Wollam on the wrong side of the Glenn Highway. Wollam, Esper and two passengers in Esper's Chevrolet Blazer, Makayla Lewis and Heidi Weilbacher, died.

Police reported that Weilbacher, 14, had a blood-alcohol content of .088. No alcohol was found in Lewis' blood. None of the teen-agers tested positive for drug use.

Robbins said if police had stopped Esper that night, he could have been charged with driving while intoxicated even though he was slightly below the presumptive legal threshold of 0.10. Drivers are considered impaired if their blood-alcohol content is higher than 0.04, Everett said, and if they are driving in a dangerous manner they can still be considered intoxicated even if they have not reached 0.10. People's alcohol tolerance levels are different, he said, and that affects how they drive after drinking.

The Legislature, under threat of losing federal funds, this year lowered the state's presumptive legal threshold for driving while intoxicated to 0.08. Esper would have been considered legally drunk under the new standard, which takes effect Sept. 1.

All those legalisms aside, Everett said, "minors shouldn't have any alcohol at all."

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