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Drugged driving growing problem across Tennessee

January 12th, 2012 8:51 pm by Jeff Bobo

ROGERSVILLE — In a story that has become all too common in Hawkins County, and across the state, yet another arrest was made Tuesday evening of a motorist allegedly driving under the influence of drugs.


A Hawkins County man who was already on bond for charges related to an Aug. 6, 2011, high-speed chase and a drug investigation was spotted allegedly driving on the wrong side of Carters Valley Road for more than a mile under the influence of prescription medication.


The number of drugged driving cases has nearly doubled in Tennessee since 2003.


Although Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson doesn’t have exact drugged driving statistics for his county, he said drugged driving is an ongoing problem for his deputies.


Prescription drugs are now the second most abused drug in the country after marijuana, according to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health.


During a roadside survey of about 6,000 Tennessee drivers conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3.9 percent of weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for medications such as Lortab, Hydrocodone, Soma, Xanax and Valium.


Analysis of 200 consecutive DUI cases submitted to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for toxicology tests found that 77.5 percent of the drivers tested positive for drugs instead of or in addition to alcohol.


Just this week, Rogersville police arrested a man allegedly high on Soma who nearly ran over a gas pump with two young daughters in his pickup.


In a separate case, a couple were arrested after being found passed out behind the wheel of a parked car with the engine running in the drive-through of the Rogersville Burger King. They were allegedly found with Xanax pills and syringes in their possession.


And Tuesday evening shortly after 7 p.m., Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Chris Funk was patrolling Carters Valley Road westbound when he observed a green 1967 Chevrolet pickup cross the center line and stay there for approximately one mile.


The pickup turned left on Carters Valley Loop and remained in the wrong lane until Funk could get the truck stopped at the Surgoinsville Market on Highway 11-W.


“The driver parked beside a pump and exited the vehicle,” Funk stated in his report. “I observed him throw something to the ground. I identified him as Craig Allan Ward, and Mr. Ward admitted to throwing the (bag containing a) pill bottle which contained seven Alprazolam, eight Clonazepam, two oxycodone pills and two unknown tan colored pills marked ‘T 46.’


“Also in the bag with the pill bottle was a straw with residue, a card and a screw used to prepare illegal narcotics.”


Ward, 40, 235 N. Hawkins St., Rogersville, allegedly had glassy eyes, was lethargic, and failed field sobriety tests. Upon being arrested, Ward refused to submit to a blood draw.


He was charged with DUI, possession of Schedule II narcotics, possession of Schedule III narcotics, possession of Schedule IV narcotics, driving left of center, registration violation, possession of drug paraphernalia, and violation of the implied consent law.


At the time of his arrest Tuesday, Ward was free on $25,000 bond stemming from a high-speed chase that occurred Aug. 6 during a HCSO Narcotics Unit investigation.


Deputies had received a tip Ward was traveling with narcotics that night, and it is believed the drugs were tossed during the chase.


The chase began on Route 113 west of Rogersville and ended 10 miles away in Hamblen County.


On Wednesday, Ward’s bond was revoked, and he was ordered held in the Hawkins County Jail without bond.


Ward’s Aug. 6 charges from Hamblen County include aggravated assault, resisting arrest, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of a firearm. In Hawkins County he was charged with felony evading arrest and a variety of other traffic charges.


Lawson worked as a road deputy for four years prior to his election in 2010.


“When I was working on the road I arrested people for driving under the influence on a regular basis,” Lawson said. “It’s definitely increased. It’s a dangerous side effect of the serious prescription drug problem we are facing, not only in Hawkins County, but across the state and across the country.”


Lawson noted that many people don’t realize they’re not supposed to drive while using certain medications. Usually, however, the problem stems from people who intentionally abuse prescription medication.


“They really don’t care and just go ahead and drive anyway, without considering the consequences and the problems they could cause,” Lawson said. “We’ve had a significant increase in complaints and arrests for drugged driving, and if you think about it, a lot of our drug possession arrests come from traffic stops. I’m sure the problem is even bigger than we realize.”

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