Man will not face charges in fatal crash

This is an article in todays paper, thought it would be interesting

Charges will not be filed against a West Fargo man involved in a July 17 construction zone crash that killed a county Highway Department worker.

Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said Tuesday that Russell L. Roberts, 45, was having a diabetic reaction at the time of the incident, which led to the decision.

Regional dispatchers in Fargo received a call about possible drunken driving through a construction zone on Cass County Road 10 at 7:13 p.m. on July 17. Within minutes, another call came in reporting the same westbound driver had crashed, hitting a road-paving vehicle and killing a worker identified as Ben Lenzen Jr. of Fargo.

The totaled green sport utility vehicle came to rest about 915 feet west of the crash scene, where a responding Cass County deputy approached the vehicle and its unconscious driver, who was slumped over the wheel.

Roberts had trouble answering questions “with any sort of speech that made sense,” Deputy Chris Fix said in his report.

Roberts had trouble standing, walking and seemed shaky when he got out of the SUV, but officers later determined Roberts was not intoxicated. Roberts told law enforcement officials he did not recall anything about the crash, and that he has diabetes and carries an insulin pump.

Roberts became more alert after responding ambulance crews determined his blood sugar level was low and started an IV to raise it.

These details are listed in law enforcement reports about the accident obtained by The Forum after Burdick announced the decision.

“Based on all the information we had, we did not believe there was anything we could prove to a criminal court that he (Roberts) would have had sufficient knowledge and ability to control the reaction that was coming on,” Burdick said Tuesday.

A report prepared by Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Leah Viste explains why charges were not filed.

In the report, Viste said Roberts has type 1 diabetes and sometimes experiences hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.

Symptoms of low blood sugar include coordination and concentration problems and in extreme cases, loss of consciousness and coma.

Viste said in her report that on the day of the crash, emergency workers confirmed Roberts had low blood sugar; other tests showed he had no alcohol in his blood.

Roberts also had no memory of events that day from about 5:30 p.m. until he was in an ambulance after the collision, Viste said.

According to the report, Roberts’ physician, Dr. Juan Munoz, told investigators that Roberts had no medical restrictions on driving, nor did Munoz think Roberts would have necessarily noticed hypoglycemia coming on.

If Roberts was unaware his blood sugar was dropping, he would not have been able to prevent the reaction, Viste said in the report.

Viste said charges of negligent homicide and reckless endangerment were considered and rejected.

“Based on the facts of this case, he (Roberts) was incapable of unreasonably disregarding the fact that his driving may injure someone,” Viste wrote.

“In addition,” she said, “driving with a medical condition under these circumstances does not involve a gross deviation from acceptable standards of conduct. If that were the case, anyone diagnosed with a heart condition or a seizure disorder, for example, would be prohibited from driving.”

Contacted at his home Tuesday, Munoz said he could not discuss specific patients, but he spoke in general about how people with low blood sugar may behave.

He said the body relies on sugar for energy and that the function of the nervous system is compromised when sugar levels drop below a threshold.

When that starts happening, there usually are warning signs such as rapid heartbeat, excessive perspiration and a shaky feeling, he said.

Diabetics usually recognize when their glucose level is dropping, unless they’ve had the condition for many years, Munoz said.

“Due to the fact their nerve endings get damaged, it is not unusual for older diabetics to lose that ability to recognize the upcoming low blood sugar,” he said.

He said there have been cases of diabetics experiencing low blood sugar who commit crimes and later have no recollection of it.

“I have seen, for example in the hospital, patients get out of their room and they just walk in a daze in the hallways. It’s not that they can’t move, it’s just that their cognitive functions get impaired,” Munoz said.

Lenzen’s family met with state Highway Patrol officials who investigated the accident along with Cass County deputies. The family questioned whether laws should restrict driver’s licenses for those with medical conditions and whether Roberts tested his blood sugar the day of the crash, according to papers released by Burdick’s office.

Lenzen’s father, Ben Lenzen, declined to comment Tuesday.

Roberts did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

I don’t know what to say about this, talk about being caught in the middle. On one hand I do believe everyone is responsible for themselves and if driving is an danger with your diabetes CHECK YOUR DAMN BLOOD SUGAR! However, with that being said I also know how easy it is to go low while driving. Especially over a long drive.

Please everyone for your sake and others check your blood sugar. Pull over if you need to and check it. No need for senseless accidents like this. Bottom line: diabetic has to live life knowing he killed someone, someone’s husband; father; son; friend has died and this doesn’t do much except give diabetics a black eye for the “diabetes police” to use against us.

Well said, Mike. This is a tragedy all around, but I also wondered when the driver had last checked his blood sugar. Since I don’t know, and since I don’t always check my blood sugar before driving, I can’t point fingers.

But I can check my own behavior. We all can. Not for the sake of looking good to the diabetes police, but for our safety and the safety of others.

My husband is a pilot and told me that diabetics are not allowed to fly airplanes. I can see why this is true. I guess I don’t want to see diabetics lose the right to drive. But do you guys think there should be consequences for repeated accidents due to poor blood-sugar management? I know there will be one consequence at least – this guy’s insurance will probably go through the roof. Is it harder to get auto insurance as a diabetic? I’ve never gone through this yet.

Yeah, this is a tough one. I have been diabetic for over 20 years and sometimes when I feel a “little” low, I’ll test and my bs will be in the 40s. And I barely feel it!

I don’t test before I drive, only when I feel symptoms - I guess because I can still feel low bs coming on.

I know it is no comfort to the family of the man who died, but in the eyes of the law, the driver was not being neglectful - you almost have to liken it to having an unexpected heart attack and/or seizure. Had he tested and been low and then just taken off driving, there would be a case.

And I’m sure he had no memory of it. I once once very low - my hubby tested me and I was in my 20s - but still talking, conscious, etc… As I was drinking juice, in my mind, I was having a conversation with my husband and he was talking back to me. Later, on a tape my husband made as I was drinking the juice, I found out I was talking jibber-jabber and you couldn’t understand one word. I told him to tape me if I ever got severly low, because I didn’t believe when he said I was completely incoherent.

All of that said - I wonder if this will cause laws that either restrict our driving or call for mandatory testing, which can be proven since machines come with time-stamping now.

what if he had a heart attack instead of low blood sugar, would it have been his fault?

I think it is different. He already had a diagnosis and so he had fair warning to check his BG before doing something potentially dangerous, right? Granted, I am T2 and have never been hypo. But even Dr. Bernstein says if you are driving, to stop and check your BG every hour.

I make sure and check my bg before driving. Even if it’s just 5 or 6 miles down the road, I check. I had an experience once in my 20+ years of having d that has made me remember to check. I wasn’t driving but had stopped to fill my gas tank. I remember filling my tank and getting in on the passenger’s side to retrieve my wallet. That’s all I remember until waking up on the pavement surrounded by paramedics.
Everyone, please be safe out there on the roads. Please check your bg level before driving and often if driving long distances. Not only will you be saving someone else’s life, but you may be saving your own.

Stephen, you bring up a good point. How close are heart attacks and low blood sugars? One might say it’s like having a brain aneurysm and is unpredictable. However that argument only fuels the rationale that we are a danger to the public and shouldn’t be on the road. Which will be the deceased individuals families next argument I’m sure. Rock -> Diabetic <- Hard Place I have a hard time believing that it is that extremely unpredictable being diabetic myself. But again, that’s just me and how my body reacts. I don’t know which side of the fence I am on. :frowning:

Well, what if he was the type of diabetic who felt no symptoms when hypoglycemic?

Scenario - he tests before driving - bs is normal. Starts driving the 30 miles or so home from work. THEN his bs drops, but he can’t feel it.

Going with the scenario of testing before you drive - he has done this. I mean, what are you supposed to do - pull over and test all the way home??? I for one, know I will not do that.

Yeah, rock and hard place is exactly where we are. :frowning:

I guess something to look at too is how often does this happen? I mean, people who have regular seizures are restricted from driving in some states - if they tried to regulate us diabetics the same, what would be the criteria? How would you know who to restrict and who not???

How tragic and unfortunate for both families involved. I am dreading the day my son gets his driver’s license. Good thing it’s 7+ years away.

This in just another example why it’s important to develop, and have covered through insurance, a reliable , readily available continuous glucose monitoring system.

I have been in this situation, i checked my bg before leaving work and it was a 5.0 (90). During the 40minute drive I started getting agitated and groggy. I suddenly realized I was having a low. I was in the middle of the boonies with nothing on me (just wiped out my supply and had not replaced yet).

God was on my side that day as I was clutching the steering wheel and trying with all my might to stay alert. I got to a gas station and tested 2.5 (45). I grabbed some pop, which was a mission on it’s own in my condition. And waited till my levels were up.

I can’t believe my fellow diabetics want to blame this man. We out of everyone should know how quickly a low can creep up. Once we put him at fault say goodbye to your freedoms. There will be more and more restrictions. I’m sorry, maybe I’m being selfish…but I want to be treated like a normal person. It is my responsibility to make sure I am of sound mind when driving, but I know from experience how it can come at you out of the blue.

It is a sad story…but life is full of sad stories, not everything is black and white.

I agree with you Preta. I’m gonna have to leave at this. The only person I can control is myself. Please be smart and stay safe everyone. :slight_smile:

I live in California where the DMV is very strict because of incidents like this. If you are on insulin they want your medical history and all your info from your doctor before they will let you drive. Then even if you are in control they want to meet with you and evaluate you.

The scary thing about is, many diabetics dont want to discuss with their doctors any hypoglycemic episodes because it can be reported to the DMV and you can lose your liscense.

Its a catch 22. It helps people be more responsible (I ALWAYS check my blood sugar before driving anywhere) but what happens if you do have a low say while you are sleeping? Not all lows are the same but its hard to be able to discuss things freely with ones doctor if you have the DMV breathing down your neck. I worry for those people who really need to be working their care out with their doctors but they dont feel they can bring up any issues because of fear of the DMV revoking their license.

My heart truly goes out to this man and the innocent man who was killed. I cant even imagine. I guess its stories like these that do make me appreciate the DMV’s strictness in my state. It is for a good cause/reason. Even if it is a pain in the rear.

This is another argument for CGM and why insurance companies should cover it!

It’s fine to check before you start to drive, but what about when you’re on a long trip? Also if you’re like me, I can test be 140 then 15 mins later without warning be 32. I often do not feel my lows even when I’m at 32 or sometimes lower. I can functions fairly normal. It’s pretty scary to me. I thought going on the pump would rid me of these episodes, but not yet, it’s getting better though…slowly.

I wish my damn insurance company would cover CGM!

Accidents like these are the reason why the log on glucose meters can not be changed. The order is fixed and single values can not be deleted. This will allow you to proof that you have done everything that was under your control to drive safely.

Someone wrote: “I want to be treated like a normal person…”

Me too, but the thing is, I am not normal – I’m diabetic. A normal person does not pass out from low blood sugar while driving.

Either this driver was negligent about monitoring his BG (in which case maybe there should be consequences, same as with any other kind of negligence) – OR – if he went low because his BG crashes suddenly with no warning, or because he can’t tell when he’s going low, then he really does pose a risk to himself and everyone around him and he should not be driving, period. Losing his right to drive would be sad. But so is a fatal accident.

I’m NOT not saying the book should be thrown at the driver, or that diabetics should not be allowed to drive … I really don’t know the answer. I do know most things are not black or white but somewhere in between.

I deleted an earlier semi-political mini-rant about the hidden costs of living in a car culture … where things like this happen at least in part because there are often no reasonable alternatives to driving, even when you know you shouldn’t. It’s hard to seriously suggest permanently revoking anyone’s driving privileges, when we all know how hard it is to get anything done without a car in most places (at least in the U.S.). If we had better alternatives maybe that would not seem like such an outrageous idea.

My heart goes out to everyone involved in this sad story.

P.S. I also noted how the article said the driver “carries” an insulin pump. Isn’t the usual verbiage “WEARS” an insulin pump? Or “uses” one? Little things like this bug me … they make it sound like all he should’ve had to do is get out his pump and take care of it. Nevermind the fact that an insulin pump does nothing for lows … It’s sad, but the more I pay attention to diabetes in the media the more I see how widely it is misunderstood. Stories like this don’t help.