The Wilmington Police Department is making progress on an investigation into claims of special treatment for a man with close ties to law enforcement.
Richard Luther caused an accident on Market Street, pulling out of a bar where he'd been drinking into oncoming traffic. The crash sent a college student to the hospital with injuries.
Despite concerns from witnesses that he was impaired, Luther was allowed to leave the scene of that crash with his wife, who recently retired from local law enforcement, without ever taking a breathalyzer test. The crash victim, who suffered a broken thumb and burns from her airbag in the crash, requested a formal investigation by the WPD of the handling of this case.
Michaella Dillon, who is still recovering from her injuries from the August crash, is upset that a more thorough investigation was not performed.
Dillon also claims that Officer Spencer falsified her statement about the crash in his official accident report, and she said there is an error in his diagram depicting how the accident happened.
The WPD has finished investigating the facts, and is now reviewing the findings to make a determination of whether concerns voiced by Dillon and witnesses are substantiated.
Still, police say part of the problem is that the public is assuming breathalyzer tests are standard whenever an officer suspects a driver is impaired.
“Most of the public's education on this is coming from watching news clips or TV shows on how often we use portable breath test instruments,” explained WPD Corporal Kevin Getman. He was not the investigating officer on the accident in question, but is an instructor with the WPD for Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.
Getman said because of his extensive experience, he’s often able to rely on his judgment of a driver’s odor of alcohol, as well as how clear their gaze is and whether their speech is mumbled when determining impairment. He estimates he gives a roadside breathalyzer test less than half the time he pulls someone over suspected of impaired driving.
Officer T.R. Spencer, who responded to Luther’s crash, is experienced and has been with the WPD for about 20 years.
Corporal Getman noted that not all officers have portable breathalyzer tests in their patrol cars. We've been asking for weeks if Officer Ryan Spencer had a portable breathalyzer test like this one in his patrol car when he responded to the crash. We've never gotten an answer. But Spencer wrote in his report that Luther's eyes and speech were clear, he did not smell any alcohol, and he made the call that Luther did not appear to be impaired.
Officer Spencer also said that Luther passed a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, when the officer watches to see how a driver’s eyes track their finger. The WPD stopped short of saying that test was more accurate than a breathalyzer test, but said it is accurate in determining sobriety up to 88 percent of the time.
Richard Luther does have a prior arrest on his record for Driving While Impaired in New Hanover County, but insists he was not intoxicated at the time of the August crash.
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