By Stephen Thompson, The Tampa Tribune
Published: May 22, 2008
CLEARWATER — Prosecutors have dropped a drunken driving charge against a man afflicted with muscular dystrophy after the man’s urine test came back negative for any illegal substances.
Michael Loui, 48, of St. Petersburg, was arrested by a St. Petersburg police officer on March 4. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge Wednesday.
“I believe we have a situation where there was a rush to judgment,” said Loui’s attorney, Frank McDermott. “There ought to be some training in place so not everyone who suffers from a disability gets arrested for DUI.”
Traffic homicide investigator Mike Jockers was working a radar detail on 38th Avenue when he saw a black Ford Explorer traveling 48 mph in a 35-mph zone, according to a police report.
In the report, Jockers noted Loui’s speech was “slurred and thick-tongued.” Jockers noted there was no smell of alcohol on Loui’s breath, and asked Loui if he had taken any medication, the report said. At first Loui said he had taken Vicodin earlier that morning for back pain, then said he hadn’t taken any in a few days, the police report says.
A videotaped field sobriety test showed Loui failing some instructions, such as one telling him to recite the alphabet.
McDermott, Loui’s attorney, said Loui told the officer he had myotonic muscular dystrophy and that he has a blank face and slurred speech as a result. Loui’s chiropractor showed up at the traffic stop, and told Jockers the same thing, McDermott said.
In a motion McDermott filed to get the charge dismissed, he said, “Myotonic dystrophy is a disorder which keeps the muscles from relaxing normally after contracting.
“The muscles begin to waste away,” the motion says “Patients who suffer from the disease have difficulty with walking and with finger and hand movements. They also may suffer from a dazed look or blank look to their face.”
Scott J. Knoeppel, Loui’s doctor at Bay Pines Veterans Administration Medical Center, wrote a letter that accompanied McDermott’s motion.
“As long as I have known Mr. Loui he has always had a speech impediment which is believed to be congenital,” Knoeppel said. His patient was diagnosed with myotonic muscular dystrophy in August 2007.
“Mr. Loui tells me that as part of his arrest he was given a field sobriety test in which he was asked to put his finger upon the tip of his nose repeatedly,” Knoeppel said. “Due to his myotonic dystrophy I do not believe he would be able to pass this test and thus give the arresting officer the impression that Mr. Loui was impaired.”
An April 10 report from the Pinellas County Forensic Laboratory showed a test on Loui’s urine showed no presence of 10 specific drugs. The St. Petersburg Police Department, however, continues to stand by the arrest.
“He had all these impairment cues,” said St. Petersburg Police Department spokesman Bill Proffitt. “If we were able to get a complete drug screen across the board, it might show some other drug.” Drugs such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs are not part of the forensic laboratory’s 10-drug screen, he said.
Despite the decision by the state attorney’s office, Jockers is going to ask the state department of motor vehicles to order that Loui be medically examined and be deemed fit to drive a car.
Reporter Stephen Thompson can be reached at (727) 451-2336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.