The Utah Court of Appeals has issued a split ruling on appeals filed by a California man charged with automobile homicide and drug counts after a fatal one-car accident in 1989.
The ruling came in the case of Michael Allen Sterger, of Cypress, Calif., who filed an interlocutory appeal to suppress evidence of drugs and paraphernalia seized from the car and a blood sample taken after the accident.The appellate court ruled the drug evidence was legally obtained, but remanded the blood sample issue to 6th District Court for determination on whether the sample was indeed given voluntarily.
Sterger, no age available, was driving with three passengers on July 23, 1989, when the car collided with an embankment in a remote area of eastern Garfield County.
A helicopter transported Sterger's wife and the two passengers to a hospital in Page, Ariz., but one of the passengers died en route. According to the ruling, one of the passengers accused Sterger of being drunk and causing the accident.
Garfield County Sheriff's Deputy Shawn Draper said he searched the car and found a film canister containing a "green leafy substance" he suspected was marijuana. After checking with the sheriff's office, he had blood drawn from Sterger, who had been taken to a clinic in Bullfrog.
Draper told Sterger he was required to submit to a blood test because he had been involved in an accident. Sterger was not told he could refuse and was not under arrest at the time, the ruling by the three-judge panel said.
The test showed that Sterger's blood-alcohol level was within the legal limit but revealed traces of THC, the active agent in marijuana, the court said.
According to the ruling, Draper later found another container with marijuana and paraphernalia.
At his pretrial hearing, Sterger moved to have the drug evidence and blood test results suppressed. The court denied the motions and the trial was postponed until the appellate court's ruling.
Phillip Foremaster, Sterger's attorney in St. George, said he had not seen the ruling and could not comment.
Automobile homicide is a second-degree felony punishable by 1-to-15 years' imprisonment. The marijuana and paraphernalia possession charges are class B misdemeanors carrying penalties of six months in jail and a $299 fine.