Wrong Way Dope

Officer Jason Hinds of the Highway Patrol arrived on the scene of a collision on Highway 101 at about ten after nine the evening of January 7th. The collision had occurred in the northbound lane and the large Dodge Ram 1500 truck that Ransome Fred Anderson, 51, of Covelo, had been driving was blocking the lane but facing south. Anderson conceded that he had “possibly” been driving south in the northbound lane. 

Ransome Anderson

Firefighters and other emergency medical personnel were trying to extract a person covered in blood from a small sedan with extensive front-end damage. 

The northbound lane remained closed until the driver of the small car, Matthew Adams, 40, was freed from the wreckage and a medical evacuation helicopter had landed on the freeway to carry Adams away. 

Chief Prosecutor Dale Trigg asked Officer Hinds about Ransome Anderson’s demeanor. 

“He was pretty calm and cooperative, laughing a little bit.” 

“Did you ask him how it happened?” 

 “Yes. At first, he said he didn’t know. Then he said he possibly was driving on the wrong side of the road. He looked back at his vehicle and said, ‘It looks like I was on the wrong side of the road.’ The odor of marijuana was coming from his breath and on his clothes. He stated that the collision was most likely due to the fact that he’d smoked marijuana.” 

“Did you speak to anyone else about the collision?” 

“Yes, Dr. Turrill (a Lakeport oncologist), a day or two later, who said he had seen a Dodge pickup driving in the wrong direction near the Coyote Valley Casino, and estimated it was going 60 miles per hour.” 

Defense attorney Justin Petersen rose to cross the officer. Mr. Petersen has a well-earned reputation for thoroughness, as he goes into great detail, closely examining a witness from every conceivable angle. Petersen wanted to know where the officer had first seen Ransome Anderson (standing on the shoulder of the road), when he had first smelled the marijuana (after checking on the other driver), did Anderson show any other signs of being impaired (yes, red, watery eyes, pupils dilated more than normal), what is normal (0.15 millimeters), how did you measure his pupils (“I have a card”). 

Petersen: “Anything else?”

“Yes, he admitted to smoking before driving and said he regularly smoked two or three joints a day since the age of 12.” 

“Did you find any marijuana on him?” 

“Yes, a joint in a pack of cigarettes.” 

There was a crowd of closely attentive people in the gallery. At this point it was unclear (to me) whether Adams had survived. However, initial police reports said that he had been listed in fair condition at the ICU in Santa Rosa after being flown there after the crash.)

“My client told you he thought he was on North State Street – is that right?” 

“That kind of changes what he said.” 

“But he indicated he’d been driving on the wrong side of the road?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“And he turned on Highway 101 thinking it was North State Street?” 

Prosecutor Trigg objected that Petersen was indulging in self-serving hearsay. 

Judge Keith Faulder said that what Anderson “thought” did not pertain and sustained the objection as hearsay. It was then revealed that Anderson did not have a valid driver’s license and had never had one. 

“You said my client was cooperative?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“But in your view he appeared to be remorseless?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“Based on – what?” 

“A lack of concern for the other driver.” 

“In what way?” 

“He didn’t check on the other driver or ask about him.” 

“So you viewed him as remorseless?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Now, you indicated earlier that you asked him about the cause of the collision?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“And he indicated that marijuana may have been the cause?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“Lemme back up. At first he wasn’t remembering anything – he’d just been hit in the face with an airbag?” 

“Yes, that’s right.” 

“And when you pressed him further he said the marijuana may have been the cause?” 

“Right.” 

“One of the things he did remember, though, was traveling down West Road towards the on-ramp?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“What did you understand that to mean – that he got on to 101 by West Road?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“Any sign that he’d crossed the median?” 

“No, sir.” 

“But you did look?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“So it was your conclusion that he got on the on-ramp and then crossed the median?” 

“Not at the time.” 

“And now?” 

“The same.” 

The tangle about whether Anderson got on the wrong ramp or crossed the median was something Petersen wanted to tease out with his famous fine-toothed comb, but Judge Faulder ruled it was “a distinction without a difference.” 

Officer Hinds was limited in putting Anderson through a field sobriety test (FST) because it turned out Anderson had broken his foot in the collision. 

The drug recognition expert (DRE) Officer David Rowan was called in to make the determination after Anderson was transported to Ukiah Valley Medical Center. The DRE tests are pretty technical but there’s no cut-and-dried proof to be had, like in an alcohol breath test, or blood test; there’s no pass or fail, only indications of metabolism such as elevated pulse rate, pupil rebound dilation, higher than normal blood-pressure, from which the expert forms his opinion, and in this case, after a lengthy cross-examination by the wonderfully thorough Mr. Petersen, Officer Rowan remained unshaken in his belief that Ransome Anderson had been driving impaired. 

Petersen quibbled endlessly over the indicators, seeking any and all avenues for his client to wriggle out of the firm grasp of Rowan’s conviction that Anderson had been stoned, too stoned to be driving. 

But Chief Prosecutor Trigg added one more: “Is it an indication of being impaired that he [Anderson] was driving on the wrong side of the freeway?” 

Certainly a clincher, that one. 

(courtroom sketch by Pete Castro)

In closing Mr. Trigg submitted some photos of Matthew Adams depicting his substantial injuries, along with medical reports from Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and the University of California at San Francisco hospital which indicated that Adams was suffering from paralysis in his throat and would continue to suffer from his brain and facial injuries. 

Judge Faulder said he found the evidence sufficient to hold Ransome Anderson on the charge of causing great bodily injury while driving under the influence of marijuana, and driving without a license. 

So the remaining issue was count three, assault with a deadly weapon, a vehicle, which Anderson was also being charged with. 

Faulder said that five years ago a similar case of a drunk driver (covered in these pages), had driven through a fence and plowed into a backyard where people were having a barbecue and when the case in question went up on appeal, the appeals court sustained the conviction. “…And that case,” Faulder said, “was not as strong as this one [Ransome Anderson’s]. Going 60 or 65 miles per hour is not consistent with someone who thought he was on State Street – if that even matters – so I will hold the defendant to answer on both counts.” 

Arraignment was set for July 16th at 9:00. 

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