ROSEVILLE (CBS13) – “The freeway is a dangerous place,” said Officer David Martinez with the California Highway Patrol.
Around 3:30 on Wednesday afternoon, a Yuba County man was killed while changing a flat tire along the shoulder of Interstate 80 in Roseville.
“When the car was hit, It came off the jack and there were scrape marks from it being pushed,” said Martinez.
Martinez says Brandon Rotolo, 24, of Vacaville, drifted off the road and collided with the man and his vehicle. The man died at the scene.
“We’re looking at other drugs including marijuana,” said Martinez.
Martinez says investigators were able to rule out alcohol, but did notice a strong smell of marijuana. Rotolo is now charged with manslaughter and DUI of drugs, but proving impairment for Marijuana may be difficult in court.
“Science has not figured out a way to accurately determine if someone is impaired based on marijuana,” said Allen Sawyer.
Sawyer is a defense attorney. He says prosecutors are at a disadvantage because of a lack of information.
“It’s great for defense attorney’s actually because the gray area is where we live,” explained Sawyer.
Marijuana impacts people differently and can stay in a person’s system for days or weeks without affecting their day to day abilities.
In speaking with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office in general terms about marijuana DUI cases and not related to this specific case, Assistant DA Rod Norgaard said:
“We really have to look for things like bad driving or really bad field sobriety tests to show the level of impairment necessary for conviction.”
He says in any marijuana DUI case, winning over a judge or jury is a huge challenge.
“That’s the bottom line with our legal system,” said Norgaard, “we have to prove that impairment.”
Right Now, researchers at UC San Diego are working to shore up the field sobriety tests for marijuana related incidents.
As for Rotolo’s case, until science catches up, CHP officers will have to rely on the keen eye of the Drug Recognition Evaluators to prove impairment in court.