Local man found guiltyPublished 11:03pm Wednesday, January 18, 2012
CASSOPOLIS — In October, 2010, new legislation went into effect, carving out a drunken driving law with harsher penalties for driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.17 or above.
For the second time in recent months, a Cass County defendant has challenged this enhanced drunken driving law.
In October 2011, Illinois native Charles Ryan became the first person convicted at jury trial in Cass County under the super drunk law.
On Tuesday, Peter Edwards Jr., 46, of 205 Oak St., Dowagiac, became the second.
Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz said Wednesday, “Combining a high blood alcohol level with driving is an extreme danger.”
A local citizen tipped off police regarding this recent incident.
Testimony at trial indicated that Frontier Communications employee was on his way to a worksite in the early morning hours of June 25, when the employee noticed a white Ford Escort had run off M-51 near Pokagon Street and careened into the high grass off the side of the road.
The driver was seen rocking the car back and forth in an attempt to move it back onto the road and eventually maneuvered the car to the roadside.
When the employee turned his vehicle around and proceeded slowly by the car, he heard the driver speaking in an angry tone.
The employee noticed the driver was slurring his words and became concerned the driver might be intoxicated.
The employee immediately called 911 and reported the suspected drunk driver.
When Cass County sheriff’s deputies arrived, they found Edwards changing a tire on his white Ford Escort.
Deputy Kathryn White, who investigated the case, located tire tracks indicating that a vehicle had left the road, mowed down a speed limit sign, traveled through a grassy area and returned to the road.
Although Edwards denied running his vehicle off of the road, his car had damage consistent with knocking down a road sign.
White and assisting Deputy Mike Fall testified the damage to Edwards’ car had occurred recently.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Sytsma, who tried the case, introduced photos which showed the path Edwards’ car took through the grassy roadside area.
Clippings from the recently cut roadside grass could be seen on the front of Edwards’ car.
According to the deputies, Edwards exhibited several signs of intoxication.
After he performed poorly on field sobriety tests, Edwards was arrested.
Edwards submitted to a court-ordered blood draw at Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital a short while later.
Results from the Michigan State Police forensic laboratory indicated Edwards’ bodily alcohol content was 0.18. Edwards was charged under Michigan’s “super drunk” law, which mandates harsher penalties for driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.17 or above.
Under this law, “super drunk” drivers face up to 180 days in jail. The traditional drunk driving law, triggered by a 0.08 blood alcohol level, carries a penalty of up to 93 days in jail.
The six-person jury took less than 15 minutes to convict Edwards of operating with a high bodily alcohol content.
District Judge Stacey Rentfrow presided over the trial and scheduled sentencing for Feb. 16.
The charge operating with a high blood alcohol content is punishable by up to 180 days in jail, $200 to $700 in fines, 360 hours of community service, rehabilitative programs and cost of prosecution for the defendant.