Jury finds Harmony man guilty of DWI

Published 9:44 am Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Harmony man who needed help standing and buttoning his shirt after being stopped for DWI appeared in Davie Superior Court last week.

David Wayne Luther Jr., 42, picked up a prescription and left Wal Mart around 5 p.m. Nov. 4, 2011. He was observed by Lt. E.M. Parker of the Mocksville Police Department and Davie County Sheriff’s Department going through the stoplight, making a left turn onto US 601, and then entering the parking lot of a gas station. Parker testified Luther’s van ran over the curb on the way out of the parking lot, with half of the van on the curb. Luther did not get out of the van at the gas station, Parker said.

The van entered the ramp onto I-40 west, and Parker pulled him over. He testified his interaction with Luther was short, because N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper A.M. Rorabaugh pulled up to take over.

Rorabaugh, who had been on another stop in the gas station parking lot, said calls to dispatch said a van was being driven recklessly in the Wal Mart parking lot.

When Rorabaugh questioned Luther, Luther told him he had just picked up his prescription from Wal Mart and was on his way home.

“His speech was slurred and he was unsteady on his feet. He had to lean on his van, and I had to catch him several times to keep him from losing his balance,” Rorabaugh testified.

Field sobriety tests were performed, with Luther showing six of six clues to impairment on the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, but Rorabaugh had to stop the physical tests early because Luther was unable to stand.

Luther was transported to the hospital to have his blood drawn, because Rorabaugh suspected the impairment was from drugs, not alcohol. Luther removed his shirt to have the blood drawn, and Rorabaugh gave him about 30 minutes, he said, to put the shirt back on while Rorabaugh was doing paperwork, but at the end of the 30 minutes, Luther had failed to button even one button.

“He stated he couldn’t do it because the buttons and holes were crisscrossed,” Rorabaugh testified.

Luther was taken to the detention center, where he fell asleep in a cell. His mother, Anita Williams, arrived and helped wake Luther up, but he was unable to walk and had to be carried to her car by two officers.

A forensic toxicologist with the NC crime laboratory testified Luther’s blood tested positive for Xanax, Soma, and Effexor, along with two metabolites that result from the breakdown of those drugs. Xanax is typically prescribed for anxiety, Soma is a muscle relaxer, and Effexor is an antidepressant, she said, and side effects of each include drowsiness and dizziness.

“They can have additive effects and all can be impairing,” she testified.

Luther’s physician, Dr. Craig DuBois, said he first saw Luther about a year after his arrest. Luther was complaining of blackout spells, headaches, numbness, and tingling.

“He had some mental impairment. He was confused and slow on testing. He wasn’t quite right,” DuBois testified.

An MRI that showed significant white spots, along with details provided by Williams about Luther’s many concussions, led DuBois to diagnose traumatic brain injury. DuBois said Luther has seizure-like episodes that can cause him to pass out, especially when he is stressed or nervous.

“When things get so overwhelming to him, his brain shuts down. He can just be out of it, for lack of a better term. There’s no way to know if that’s what happened this time,” DuBois testified.

He said if Luther had been suffering from a toxic rather than therapeutic level of his medication the day he was arrested, no one would have been able to wake him in the cell.

Luther also suffers from balance issues, anxiety, and depression.

When asked by Assistant DA Steve Boone if Luther had displayed any of his symptoms that day during the trial, DuBois answered, “He’s just kinda his baseline self today.”

Williams said Luther has lived with her the past 13 years, since his fiancée died. She helps take care of Luther and his son, who has a brain tumor and “rage issues,” she said. In his teens, Luther was thrown from horses and was in multiple car wrecks, and began having headaches about five years ago, then slurred speech and problems with balance.

“I accused him of being on drugs, and when he said he wasn’t, I said, ‘Well then you are going to the doctor.’”

In 2009 or 2010, on a ride home from Durham, where his son was in the hospital, Luther had a “grand mal seizure” and wrecked his vehicle. Prior to that, she said, “He had a good life” and was a truck driver.

Luther was on the phone with her when he was pulled and he told her he was being arrested. When she went to get him, she heard an officer say they couldn’t wake him up, so she was allowed to go back to the cell and give him a “sternum rub,” which she said can sometimes work to wake him but did not this time. After two officers put him into her vehicle, she took him home but left him asleep in the van, checking on him “to make sure he was breathing,” she testified. At some point, he woke up, walked into the house, laid down on the couch and went back to sleep.

She testified she keeps all his medication “under lock and key,” because there are people in and out of her house several times a day.

Luther was last to take the stand, walking with a limp, and his speech was thick and slurred as he told the jury about his experiences breaking and shoeing horses and the subsequent injuries from those, as well as the half a dozen car wrecks he estimated he had in his late teens and early 20s. He said in addition to the problems his doctor noted, he also has spine problems and trouble sleeping.

On a thrice daily basis, he takes Soma, Effexor, and Xanax, and also takes a narcotic pain medication, an anti-seizure medicine, and a sleep aid when needed. He testified he’d taken Soma, Xanax, Effexor and the narcotic pain reliever around 7 the morning he was arrested, more medicine around 10:30 or 11 a.m. and had run out of the Soma so had gone to Wal Mart to get his prescription refilled. Before he left the parking lot, he took one, because he said it takes him about 17 minutes to get home and about 45 minutes for the medicine to begin working.

At the gas station, he bought a drink and lottery ticket, then returned to his van. He said he didn’t run over the curb, that it is high enough he would have known if he’d run over it, but admitted he probably didn’t use his turn signal when entering the ramp onto the interstate. When asked if he had any weapons, he said he told the deputy he had a pocket knife, and placed it on the bumper, but said the deputy grabbed him and began going through his pockets, and it stressed him out so badly he passed out and didn’t remember anything else until he woke up at home hours later. He admitted to being convicted of a DWI 19 years ago.

On day two of the trial, which started late because a juror overslept, Luther admitted to another DWI two years ago. Boone said, “When your attorney asked you about it yesterday you didn’t mention that,” and Luther said, “I didn’t recall it at the time.”

In his closing argument, Freeman told the jury they’d heard testimony about what happens with “normal individuals” and in “normal situations,” but “we don’t have the average everyday normal person here.”

He said testimony abut possible side effects had to be weighed with DuBois’ testimony about the effects the medication had on Luther, which were therapeutic and not indicative of overdose.

Boone’s closing argument reminded the jury of the testimony by Rorabaugh that Luther couldn’t stand, couldn’t button his shirt, despite being given 30 minutes to do so, and couldn’t be awakened at the jail. He said Luther admitted to taking the medication that was found in his system, and when he was at the hospital having his blood drawn, did not ask for medical care while he had the chance to do so.

Boone said, “The first time the doctor saw Mr. Luther was Nov. 12, 2012, over a year after he was arrested, but he’s been taking pills since, by his own admission, 2006. Somebody’s prescribing them…And Mom keeps them under lock and key, and he doesn’t have a key? There’s got to be a reason for that.”

The jury deliberated 90 minutes before finding Luther guilty.

He was sentenced by Judge William Z. Wood Jr. to 6 months, suspended 60 months supervised probation. He must surrender his driver’slicense, not operate a vehicle until licensed, take his medication as prescribed and only as prescribed, pay a fine of $250, court costs, a $600 lab fee, $1,740 for his court-appointed attorney, and a fee of $3,000 for the testimony of his doctor. He must also serve an active sentence of 72 hours.