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Man receives jail time, assault conviction for Highway 101 collision

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on June 4th, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Curry County DA convicted driver of
reckless driving and assault.

A man has been convicted on assault and reckless driving charges for driving his car into two women as they rode their bicycles on the Oregon Coast Bike Route last fall. The collision occurred on October 3rd, about 11 miles north of Gold Beach on Highway 101.

30-year-old Martha McClean and 26-year old Essya Nabbali were on a bike tour of the Oregon Coast and were pedaling southbound on a very narrow part of the highway known as Ophir Dike, when 62-year-old Neal Lawson struck them from behind with his PT Cruiser traveling at about 55 mph.

"A prudent driver would have slowed down."
— Everett Dial, Curry County DA

According to the Curry Coastal Pilot newspaper, Lawson was convicted on April 26th of two counts (one for each woman) of "assault by use of a dangerous weapon" and reckless driving. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, five years of probation, ordered to pay over $250,000 in restitution and compensation to the women, and his driver's license was suspended for five years.

Curry County District Attorney Everett Dial told me via phone this morning that the case took such a long time to reach sentencing because Mr. Lawson is suffering from severe liver cancer. At the time of the collision, the DA says Lawson was using chemotherapy drugs, which might have contributed to his actions (but because they are not considered narcotics, he was not charged with DUII).

Also, because of his cancer, his 90 day jail sentence was changed to house arrest.

The DA said he doesn't feel that Lawson struck the women intentionally, but he said the assault charges were warranted because Lawson admitted to seeing McClean and Nabbali bicycling in front of him from at least 1/4 mile away. "He saw them and looked around to see if he could pull over, and then drove straight into them... He was going 55 mph and that's the Ophir Dike, the shoulder and the road is very narrow in that spot. A prudent driver would have slowed down."

DA Dial added that the case was "just a tragedy" and that, "There's nothing that those girls could have done differently."

McClean and Nabbali are still recovering from their injuries, and some of them are likely to be permanent.

Nabbali read a Victim's Impact Statement during the sentencing hearing back in April. And last night she commented on BikePortland to share more of her thoughts:

"The assault, if not manslaughter or murder, that can take place on the road needs to be given much more emphasis and weight in driving lessons, policy-making, and social dialogue more generally. So as to avoid such tragedies as the one being discussed here that claimed the life of WOU professor, Hank Bersani; or the nightmare that Martha and I continue to live. For Mr. Neal F. Lawson’s actions on Oct-03-2011 are the most grotesque demonstration of the deaden [desensitization] that I am referring to, as he made the selfish decision to keep driving despite reportedly swerving all over the road some time prior to hitting us; and his passenger (Robert B. Anthony) – equally as culpable, if you ask me – for not demanding that he pull over immediately.

Even uglier, Mr. Lawson acknowledged to the OSP [Oregon State Police] that he saw us both along the Oregon Coast Bike Route, which was straight, level, dry, and in full daylight. And if this does not appall you enough, he is said to have done little-to-nothing at the scene of the accident. There is even a picture on Jim and Mary’s blog of him just casually strolling towards Martha’s stock-still body on the asphalt with hands-in-pockets, while everyone else is in utter pandemonium. It is unacceptable! And "ongoing" investigations are only as valuable as the questions being asked, the answers being uncovered (until saturation and clarity), the critical reflection that then follows and is put into action... somehow... some way... It should not take an accident to call upon us to help advocate for change! And thoughtful language should only be an expectation, especially of those in positions of authority, whose words are well heard and often well received."

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Comments
  • naomi June 4, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    "his 90 day jail sentence was changed to house arrest"

    Wow, kill 2 people he saw from at least 1/4th a mile ahead of him and not a day in jail. If I ever need to murder someone, I'll remember to use an automobile.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 4, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      fwiw, the DA said Lawson is "dying of cancer"

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    • Tom June 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm

      They also aren't dead. Serious injuries but a long way from death.

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    • Anthony June 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm

      Unless I'm severely confused, he didn't kill anyone. See: "McClean and Nabbali are still recovering from their injuries, and some of them are likely to be permanent." And: "Nabbali read a Victim's Impact Statement during the sentencing hearing back in April. And last night she commented on BikePortland to share more of her thoughts"

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    • John I. June 4, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      Article said "McClean and Nabbali are still recovering from their injuries"

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      • oskarbaanks June 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm

        And I hope the recovery goes well for them. It is interesting to take into account the perceived state of mind (? whoa!) Mr. Lawson was in at the time of the collision according to the reports as they are stated here. Jeez, this is super sad.

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    • q`Tzal June 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm

      I'll be all cold, calculating and evil about the house arrest:
      If he is in jail we the taxpayers will be on the hook for his healthcare costs; given his current condition it would be very expensive.
      OTOH, under house arrest his palliative care will be more expensive, difficult to coordinate and near impossible.
      He will likely suffer more stuck at home unable to get some needed medical care and will likely die sooner and alone.

      I'll leave it up to your own personal mix of compassion and vengeance to decide if this is Good(tm) or Bad(tm).

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  • 9watts June 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan, for this follow up.

    I guess those are some pretty serious charges (good), but the details from Essya's comments are chilling (not). The promised land this is not (yet), not by a long shot.

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  • 9watts June 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    "He was going 55 mph and that's the Ophir Dike, the shoulder and the road is very narrow in that spot. A prudent driver would have slowed down."

    While I appreciate the DA's sentiments about prudent driving, the assertion that 'the road is very narrow in that spot' is simply not true. As Mary's photos of the aftermath of the accident show, the lane is considerably wider than the semi truck parked in the opposite lane, and Lawson was driving a PT Cruiser. Road width is not relevant here. Lawson's inability to use good judgment drive safely is.

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    • q`Tzal June 5, 2012 at 1:57 am

      Perhaps the medical community should be put on notice that they should be on the lookout for pharmaceutically impared drivers THEY create.

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  • Todd Boulanger June 4, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I am curious, after reading the press account of this case, to understand why the judge issued different levels of fines/ compensation to each of the victims. Was it based on their injury severity, the order of their being struck down, or lost income?

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  • Todd Boulanger June 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    And...now that a dangerous driver has had his DL revoked by an Oregon judge.

    Is there a national registry for such measures, so that other DMVs will be aware of this if a driver attempts to apply for a new DL in another state - assuming they take a new written exam and driver's test without turning in an old OR license. I know that regionally DMVs have had a better record of information sharing, but not so good across the continent in the past. Have the post 9/11 rules affected this? Or is this a weak point in traffic safety and enforcement to clean up during the next session?

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    • Spiffy June 4, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      in 2000 my (now ex) wife was getting her DL in California and a flag came up for a guy with the same name and DOB in New York... so I think they're cross-checking with other states...

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  • Rol June 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    "There's nothing that those girls could have done differently."

    Oh well, thanks for looking for something anyway.

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    • oskarbaanks June 4, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      I believe I am reading your response to be the same way I interpreted that statement.

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    • Machu Picchu June 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm

      And, while we're at it, what kind of twentieth-century legal public servant refers to twenty to thirty-year-old women as: "those girls"?

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  • wsbob June 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    "...Lawson admitted to seeing McClean and Nabbali bicycling in front of him from at least 1/4 mile away. "He saw them and looked around to see if he could pull over, and then drove straight into them..." Curry County District Attorney Everett Dial

    "...as he made the selfish decision to keep driving despite reportedly swerving all over the road some time prior to hitting us; and his passenger (Robert B. Anthony) – equally as culpable, if you ask me – for not demanding that he pull over immediately. ..." Essaya Nabali

    What the above excerpts say is stunning.

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  • Jeff June 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    We need physically protected bicycle paths. I'm speaking for bicyclists and drivers. I understand their are fiscal issues, but you'd think an argument could be made to use the gas tax for this (I understand it's mandated to be used for highways in this state) because it would benefit the safe and efficient flow of automobile traffic.

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    • 9watts June 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      A gas tax worthy of the name (along the lines of what most European countries have: steep and rising) would go a long way toward separating bikes and cars without spending a cent on infrastructure, because vehicle miles traveled would drop and bicycling would increase simply based on the sharply changed cost of the two.
      Then, before we had really even fully implemented the above, cheap oil and other taken-for-granted ingredients of our present way of life will evaporate and take care of the rest of automobility as far as it being a constant threat to people riding bikes. Or at least that is what I'm putting my money on.

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    • spare_wheel June 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      do you really believe a nation focused on cutting entitlements is going to fund construction of separated bike paths on state/rural highways? imo, instead of rural cycletracks we need aggressive legal options and strict civil liability.

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      • q`Tzal June 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm

        Responsibility and accountability: the other side of American freedom that most don't want anything to do with.
        Unfortunately you can't have freedom without responsibility for ones actions.

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    • oskarbaanks June 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      I really don't see a bike path on the coast highway in our immediate future.

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      • q`Tzal June 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm

        O, I can envision a raised MUP/boardwalk made of local lumber that stays perpetually slippery from the ocean spray.
        It would be too slick to be safe for bikes but would be designated the mandatory sidepath.

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    • JAT in Seattle June 4, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      Oh come now, really? On 101?

      I don't mean to diminish the personal tragedy these cyclists are facing, but there's simply not room to install parallel infrastructure on every road a cyclist might want to ride on.

      Given the choice between demanding better performance by motorists and penalizing those who can't do so and having the government tell us we're S.O.L if we want to cycle other than on parallel infrastructure (see the Seattle streetcar tracks crash map in today's Monday roundup) I think most would choose better motorists.

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    • esther c June 5, 2012 at 10:44 am

      What we need is an actual system that keeps impaired and incompetent drivers off the road. A bicycle path would do nothing to prevent the pedestrian slaughter that happens daily.

      How about some sort of system closer to how airline pilots are licensed?

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  • Phil Kulak June 4, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    9watts
    A gas tax worthy of the name (along the lines of what most European countries have: steep and rising) would go a long way toward separating bikes and cars without spending a cent on infrastructure, because vehicle miles traveled would drop and bicycling would increase simply based on the sharply changed cost of the two.

    It's easier to start a war than raise the gas tax.

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    • 9watts June 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      Phil,
      that doesn't strike me as very helpful. But if enough people repeat something along these lines, it becomes a truism and an excuse for not doing anything about this deplorable situation. It also doesn't suggest you have a--or we should seek to hold our country/elected officials/future in--very high regard. I'd like to think we could do better.

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  • rolinon June 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Seriously, has anyone else noticed how many times PT Cruisers have killed or injured people on bikes? I mean, WTF? Between them and pickup trucks. Is there a design flaw as far as visibility goes or are the people who drive them more distracted, more likely to be under the influence, or what?
    I hope the two women recover fully from this and are able to continue cycling.

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    • meh June 5, 2012 at 6:48 am

      Not one single PT Cruise or Pick Up truck has killed anyone.
      The person behind the wheel caused the death.
      Without the driver a PT Cruise or Pick Up is an inanimate object

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  • resopmok June 4, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Given the accounts of his decision making and behavior both behind the wheel and at the scene of the accident, it sounds to this non-expert as though Lawson was not in the proper state of mind to wield a one ton weapon in the first place. When are we going to make licensing and driving requirements strict enough that not every person who is still breathing can get one. And when are we going to start taking those licenses away permanently when the licensee screws up royally? Is there really a reason Mr Lawson should have his returned to him in five years?

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    • 007 June 7, 2012 at 11:12 pm

      I don't recall reading anywhere that Lawson was given a blood or urine test, either.

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  • NW Biker June 4, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    I hope the cyclists recover quickly and as fully as possible. I'm very glad that charges were brought. All the driver had to do was slow down, but that just seems impossible for too many drivers.

    One thing: just because the driver has lost his license doesn't mean he won't drive. I lost a good friend to an unlicensed driver (he drove an SUV over the top of her car and crushed it). The lack of a little card will not keep people from physically getting behind the wheel.

    Patty

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  • Joe June 4, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    I guess bicycles on roadway is hard to read if you don't care about anybody but yourself, hey better signage would be awesome.

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  • Essya June 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I find it extremely disheartening (to say the least!!) that I am learning of Mr. Neal F. Lawson’s house arrest from BikePortland, rather than the Curry County District Attorney’s Office itself. Don’t get me wrong, I very much appreciate Jonathan’s attentiveness to our case and commitment to such critical discussions around cycling safety and justice. But I did email Ms. Sherrié DuFour (the Curry County Victim Advocate) on May-23-2012, requesting confirmation that Mr. Lawson did indeed begin serving his sentence on May-14-2012 as ruled by the judge on Apr-26-2012. And when I still had not heard back from her last night, I emailed Mr. Everett Dial directly, expressing my surprise that his office had not “flashed Martha and I [an update] by now.”

    I have hesitated to contribute to this blog over the last 7ish months out of respect for the “investigation,” dare I even dub it so. But the lack of consideration that we have and continue to face raises, I think, political significant questions. Be it around resources and/or ideology. I have never been the first to know; and please forgive me but I remain skeptical of the State’s due diligence review of Mr. Lawson’s health (which, for the record, I have queried both by email and on the phone). As it just seems too convenient to me that, on Oct-03-2011, Mr. Lawson was not too ill to pick up Mr. Robert B. Anthony and drive; but by Dec-12-2012, he could not be taken into custody on account of his cancer (despite dispatching the OSP in Coos County to do so) and, later, his Feb-29-2012 hearing needed to be postponed. Now, today, it seems to preclude him from taking responsibility for his life-changing, permanent actions.

    Perhaps, there is more to the story than this; but then the ambiguity or vagueness of my understanding is yet another example of the negligence of the State.

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    • Essya June 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm

      ** I wish to rephrase my wording, for diplomacy: I FEEL AS THOUGH I have never been the first to know, having to chase down the OSP and D.A. for infromation, which has not exactly been the cornerstones of healing and attunement.

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    • Elizabeth June 5, 2012 at 6:01 am

      It is all very disheartening, for you Essya, as well as for everyone of us who has lived this tragedy with you and Martha. There's nothing that can be done to change the events of October 3, 2011. And that is very disheartening. Neal F. Lawson should not have been driving on that day and should not have driven while undergoing chemotherapy. This is the point that needs to be stressed in all discussions revolving around this case and cases of this nature. Patients undergoing chemotherapy should not have a license to drive. Their license should be revoked during this treatment. The State of Oregon (and all districts) should have laws that prohibit individuals from operating a vehicle under the influence of medicated drugs. Throwing Neal F. Lawson in jail and throwing away the key will not change anything unless precautions are taken to prevent a similar accident from ever happening in the future. That is what will make the difference. To advocate for change until change is obtained is the key to restitution. The State of Oregon (and all jusrisdictions) should be made accountable through successful lobbying for change to the laws that currently (un)exist. Advocating for change, keeping it in the forefront of all discussions and persevering until changes are made to the current laws is the only path to follow. The comment that the DA made that the road and shoulder are narrow is certainly NOT a valid point and irrelevant to this case. How many other cyclists and motor vehicles have travelled along this section of the road without ever being in collision? The only relevant fact for this case is that the driver SHOULD NOT have been driving. The fact that he was legally driving is an aberration of our legal system. The medical body who administered chemotherapy to Neal F. Lawson and knew that he drove a motor vehicle during this treatment is also accountable for negligence to public safety.

      Elizabeth

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    • 007 June 7, 2012 at 11:16 pm

      You're dealing with good old boys what don't need no foreigners bossin'' em around. Just don't worry your pretty little head about nuthin'.

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    • wsbob June 8, 2012 at 12:16 am

      Essya, as a regular reader of bikeportland, I'd just like to express my appreciation for you and your parents having posted in comments to this story, such a thoughtful range of feelings and reactions about important issues related to the calamity you and your friend were subject to.

      If you hadn't found the time to do so in such a rational, articulate manner, I think far fewer people than do now, would have the important details you've provided about what happened, why, and the way authorities handled the investigation and the case itself.

      I find what Neal Lawson the driver of the vehicle did, and that of his passenger, still kind of mysterious and yet to be fully explained...all fundamentally stunning in what appears to be unconscionable disregard for the welfare of those besides themselves.

      In terms of Neal Lawson's conviction due to his having done terrible things as the operator of a motor vehicle, the conviction seems to be a bit of an extraordinary outcome in that a sufficiently solid case was actually able to be assembled, together with a sufficiently strong argument to bring the conviction down. Still tough for you and your family.

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  • esther c June 5, 2012 at 10:48 am

    I suppose we should be relieved that he wasn't let off with it ruled an unpreventable accident due to his medical condition as it so often is. I was just reading about Mary Kennedy's death and she got off on a DUI because the drugs she took that impaired her were prescribed. WTF kind of rationale is that. You can kill someone just as dead driving under the influence of prescription narcotics and tranquilizers as you can alcohol.

    Sorry you're dead but I had a prescription.

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  • Vincent White June 6, 2012 at 1:13 am

    I was there on the day of this accident,and just wathing this makes my heart jump a couple of beats. I watched as the driver of the car that hit both girls walked around and acted like nothing even happend! How I wanted to just jump all over him. I believe 90 days in jail isn't enough, Mabe a couple of years just to let people know htere is someone watching out for the innocent bistander. My Heart was in alot of pain that day thinking how the events unfolded. But I am glad to see it starting to come to a close. As for my new found friends,during all this, I wish you the best, and hope to hear from you soon!

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  • Belaid Nabbali June 6, 2012 at 4:56 am

    Mr. D.A Dial “ THE SHOULDER AND THE ROAD IS VERY NARROW IN THAT SPOT” wrong statement , we went to the scene of the accident and took pictures of all the markings, pick-up items of my daughter left by the police (Thermos, shoe, towel, mug )
    We did park our vehicle on the shoulder, no interference to the traffic. D.A Dial that is not a tragedy is an Idiot driving a car under the influence of drugs, and by the way do you think hitting someone at 20mph will hurt less than at 55 mph. I will love to hear you giving the same statement if it was your daughter who was laying in the ditch.
    Pushing my daughter in a wheel chair, and seen her going up the stairs of our home on her bum is hard, very hard. My daughter Essya is an accomplish athlete, (Asia , south America, Africa and Europe ) clamp it , hike it bike it and run it all. Please don’t excuse what has happen by calling it tragedy. Take the idiots out of the roads, and highways, that what you are pay it for.
    Read the above post of my wife Elizabeth .
    To Lawson the driver I saw how you look in the court room, I DO NOT FEEL SORRY FOR YOU, AND COOS BAY WHERE YOU LEAVE WILL BE A BETTER PLACE WITHOUT YOU IN IT.

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    • seaweed June 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm

      Indeed, a "prudent driver" would have never gotten behind the steering wheel of a multi-ton piece of metal with, what's been called, "chemo fog" (assuming, of course, Lawson was pharmatoxicated). Or, at the very least, would have pulled over up upon realizing that he was not fit to drive. Period.

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  • GP50 June 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    ...the DA says Lawson was using chemotherapy drugs, which might have contributed to his actions (but because they are not considered narcotics, he was not charged with DUI).

    More aptly, "because they are not considered narcotics," it remains unclear to the women and families involved (thus, presumably the State as well) whether the use of chemotherapy drugs AT THE TIME of the accident has even been confirmed through toxicology tests.

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    • 007 June 7, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      Yeah, were any blood or urine samples taken from Lawson?

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    • seaweed June 8, 2012 at 7:30 pm

      ORS Chapter 813: Driving under the Influence of Intoxicants (http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/813.html)

      A person may NOT be convicted of driving while under the influence of intoxicants on the basis of being under the influence of a controlled substance or an inhalant unless the fact that the person was under the influence of a controlled substance or an inhalant is pleaded in the accusatory instrument and is either proved at trial or is admitted by the person through a guilty plea.

      Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm)

      Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States.

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