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State v. Schuster

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler

June 5, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
MICHELLE SCHUSTER, Defendant-Appellant.


          Michael T. Gmoser, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney, Lina N. Alkamhawi, Government Services Center for plaintiff-appellee

          Schreyer Thomas, LLP, H. Michele Thomas, for defendant-appellant


          HENDRICKSON, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Michelle Schuster, appeals a decision of the Butler County Court of Common Pleas denying her motion to suppress. For the reasons detailed below, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

         {¶ 2} On April 22, 2015, electrical work was being conducted near the intersection of Cox Road and Liberty Way in West Chester Township, Butler County, Ohio. At approximately 3:23 p.m., a motor vehicle operated by appellant crossed multiple lanes of traffic and struck four electrical workers before crashing into an electrical truck. Appellant and the four electrical workers were transported to a nearby hospital. One of the electrical workers died from her injuries and the other three suffered serious physical harm. While at the hospital, a law enforcement officer had a registered nurse withdraw a blood sample from appellant. Testing of appellant's blood indicated that at the time of the accident she had alprazolam, or Xanax, and marijuana in her system.

         {¶ 3} Appellant was indicted on one count of aggravated vehicular homicide in violation of R.C. 2903.06(A)(1), a felony of the second degree, one count of aggravated vehicular homicide in violation of R.C. 2903.06(A)(2), a felony of the third degree, three counts of aggravated vehicular assault in violation of R.C. 2903.08(A)(1)(a), felonies of the third degree, three counts of vehicular assault in violation of R.C. 2903.08(A)(2)(b), felonies of the fourth degree, and one count of operating a vehicle while under the influence of a drug of abuse in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a), a misdemeanor of the first degree.

         {¶ 4} Appellant pled not guilty to the charges. Appellant then moved to suppress, among other things, the blood-test results on the basis that the blood sample had not been taken voluntarily or in compliance with R.C. 4511.191 or Ohio Adm.Code 3701-53-01 through 3701-53-10.[1] A two-day hearing was held on appellant's motion, at which time the state presented testimony from three law enforcement officers employed by the West Chester Township Police Department, the nurse who withdrew appellant's blood sample, and two forensic toxicologists who tested appellant's blood sample.

         {¶ 5} Officer Jeff Newman testified that at the time of the accident, he was working a traffic detail at the intersection of Cox Road and Liberty Way. Newman had his back towards Cox Road when he heard a "loud boom." He turned and saw four electrical workers "moving in different direction through the air, " one of the electrical trucks "shaking and moving, " and the black car that had struck the side of the electrical truck spin around. Newman explained that although the black car had come to a stop, its engine was "racing at a real high speed" as if it was "being revved up by somebody."

         {¶ 6} Upon approaching the black car, Newman saw appellant, the driver, slumped over "with her head off to the side." Newman attempted to talk to appellant, but she was incoherent and was fading "in and out of consciousness." While trying to speak with appellant, Newman noticed the smell of an alcoholic beverage coming from appellant's vehicle. Newman did not place appellant under arrest at this time.

         {¶ 7} Officer Steven Seitzman testified that he arrived at the scene of the accident around 4:00 p.m. Upon his arrival, he was advised that appellant and the injured electrical workers had been transported to a nearby hospital. He was also advised that there was "an odor of an alcoholic beverage on the * * * at-fault driver."

         {¶ 8} When Seitzman first arrived at West Chester Hospital's emergency room, the first thing he heard was "screaming and yelling" coming from appellant's room. According to Seitzman, the noise coming from appellant was "just incoherent screaming just as - as loud as you can imagine." Seitzman did not consider appellant's screaming and yelling to be speaking as "she wasn't speaking any sort of language [he] recognized."

         {¶ 9} After checking on the electrical workers injured in the accident, Seitzman entered appellant's room and was advised by a nurse that appellant had needle marks on her hand. After observing appellant for a brief period of time, Seitzman requested that another officer bring a urine and blood collection kit to the hospital. Seitzman testified he requested the kit "based on a few factors, " including "the air of alcohol [that] was described to [him] by the officer that was at the scene, " "the yelling and screaming" coming from appellant, which was "inconsistent with anybody else in the ER and highly unusual behavior, " and the suspected needle marks on appellant's hand.

         {¶ 10} Around 6:12 p.m., prior to appellant's blood being taken, Seitzman read appellant a BMV 2255 form, informing her of the consequences of refusing to submit to a blood test. Appellant was not placed under arrest at this time and she did not sign the form. Seitzman asked appellant if she wanted to comply with the blood test, and she responded with "incoherent yelling and screaming." Believing that appellant was unable, or incapable, of refusing to give consent, Seitzman opened the blood collection kit and handed two collection tubes to nurse Amanda Burton. Seitzman observed Burton open the tubes and draw appellant's blood before both he and Burton immediately sealed the tubes, signed the collected evidence, and sealed the evidence inside the collection kit. Within 15 minutes of the blood sample being drawn, Seitzman left the hospital with the sample and transported it to evidence-room refrigerator at the police station. Seitzman explained that the refrigerator is under the care and custody of the police department and is kept locked.

         {¶ 11} Burton testified she was the emergency room registered nurse who helped treat appellant on the day of the accident. Burton testified appellant's words were "slurred" and "not comprehensible." According to Burton, appellant "never could answer any questions appropriately." Burton described appellant as "very combative and uncooperative, " and noted that the hospital had to administer medication to calm her down. Although Burton could not specifically recall the name of the medication or medications provided to ...

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