LOCK HAVEN - A Loganton man successfully used an "involuntary DUI" defense and was acquitted this week of driving under the influence in Clinton County Court.
Joseph H. Brumgard, 57, of 61 Main St., Loganton, crashed his 1995 Mercury Sable into a utility pole - shearing it off - at 3:50 a.m. on Jan 4, 2011 along along the East Valley Road in Greene Township.
At first, according to court papers, Brumgard was found walking along the road without shoes and claimed he was not driving - that he was a passenger with two females.
Brumgard said he didn't know where he was and his speech was slow and slurred, court papers said, but he had no odor of alcohol.
He later admitted he was driving the car at the time of the crash, but noted he was on prescription Ambien sleeping pills. He then failed the field sobriety test and was placed under arrest for DUI, careless driving and driving past the center lines of traffic, court records said.
President Judge J. Michael Williamson on Thursday acquitted Brumgard of all the charges, saying Brumgard was "involuntary DUI" and was "sleep-driving" at the time of the crash.
The Commonwealth, represented by District Attorney Mike Salisbury, suggested Brumgard was negligent because he took the Ambien and "should have known" he could not drive while on the medication, court records said.
However, Williamson ruled the warning label on the pills "doesn't adequately advise a person that sleep driving is a possibility with Ambien."
"Obviously, the court is concerned, as is the district attorney, with the possibility that a defendant in a DUI or drug case is going to be able to walk into court saying, 'I took the prescription medication and I didn't have any idea what it would do to me and I ran into a telephone pole,'" Williamson said while issuing his verdict. "We don't believe the facts of this case are ever going to arise again and we are not quite so concerned with our verdict on society in general.
"It is noteworthy that the defendant was barefoot, he didn't put in his false teeth and he didn't have his glasses on," the judge continued. "The defendant did operate the vehicle, but it was not intentional... He was 'sleep driving.'"
It's thought by Brumgard's attorney, Stephen C. Smith, that this is the first time an "unintentional DUI" defense has been successful in Clinton County Court.
According to several websites, Ambien is currently one of the most prescribed sleep aids in the U.S. However, there is recent concern over possible addictive side-effects and sleep-related eating, walking, cooking and driving. Alleged side-effects range from sleepwalking episodes to hallucinations, violent outbursts and driving while asleep. There are in increasing number or reports of people have woken up to find themselves in jail, driving cars while in a hypnotic state and binge eating.
According to these websites, scientific research confirms Ambien is a powerful hypnotic that can induce sleepwalking and sleep-eating. Another possible side-effect is that users of this drug have no memory of their actions after taking the drug.
People taking such drugs as Ambien have reported getting up in the middle of the night and going for a drive, with no recollection of doing so. The Food and Drug Administration has since ordered 13 drug markers to to include warnings on their labels about rare but serious side-effects including, sleep-driving and life-threatening allergic reactions.