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County official insists defendant was high despite lack of symptoms

A man on trial in Alleghany County for vehicular homicide in the death of a woman in June 2010 was high on marijuana at the time of the accident, an official with the county Medical Examiner's office said during her testimony on Sept. 20. Though she admitted that the defendant exhibited none of the traditional signs of marijuana intoxication, she insisted that the "totality of the circumstances" supported her contention.

A Mt. Lebanon woman was killed while out jogging on June 28, 2010. She was pushing a stroller with her two young children when she was struck by the defendant's SUV at an intersection. A witness at the trial said he saw the defendant drink beer and smoke marijuana the night before the accident.

As part of their case, Alleghany County prosecutors called the assistant chief toxicologist to the stand to give her opinion on the defendant's sobriety at the time of the accident. She said that the major effects of marijuana peak within 10 minutes of smoking the drug, and that marijuana's effects largely fade after five hours. However, she added, "residual effects" can remain in the system, including problems with depth perception.

On cross-examination, the defendant's attorney pointed out that his client did not show any signs that he was high at the scene of the accident, such as red eyes or rapid pulse. The toxicologist admitted that was true, but said that fact did not change her mind. A test taken on the defendant's blood estimated that he had last smoked marijuana somewhere between 8 a.m. and shortly before the accident, but the toxicologist added that the test is not as accurate when the subject is a habitual user.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Level of marijuana at issue in trial in jogger's death," Paula Reed Ward, Sept. 21, 2011

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