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Truck driver in bicyclist crash had high level of meth in his system

Updated December 18, 2020 - 3:52 pm

Jordan Barson, the truck driver accused of DUI in a crash that killed five bicyclists, had more than nine times the amount of methamphetamine in his system needed to be legally considered impaired, according to a Nevada Highway Patrol arrest warrant.

Barson, 45, had 948.7 nanograms of methamphetamine per milliliter of blood in his system, according to an arrest warrant. The limit at which a driver would be considered impaired by the illegal drug is 100 nanograms per milliliter.

“If someone has 100 nanograms of methamphetamine in their blood at the time of driving, that would mean that they are ‘per se,’ in other words legally conclusively, driving under the influence,” said Shannon Bryant, the Nevada Traffic Safety Resource prosecutor and a drug recognition expert instructor.

“So we would not see someone having 100 nanograms in their bloodstream, typically, unless there was fairly recent use,” Bryant said in a phone interview Friday.

Barson was arrested in Kingman, Arizona, on Wednesday after Clark County prosecutors charged him with five counts of DUI resulting in death, six counts of reckless driving resulting in death or substantial bodily harm, and one count of DUI resulting in substantial bodily harm, court records show. He remained in Mohave County on Friday awaiting extradition.

He is suspected of driving impaired in the crash that killed bicyclists Erin Michelle Ray, 39; Gerrard Suarez Nieva, 41; Michael Todd Murray, 57; Aksoy Ahmet, 48; and Tom Trauger, 57. Four others were injured in the crash — which happened Dec. 10 on U.S. Highway 95 near Searchlight — most seriously Jerome Ducrocq, who was hospitalized in critical condition last week.

The bicyclists were with a group of about 20 who set out from Henderson that morning to complete the roughly 130-mile Nipton Loop. All of the bicyclists who were killed or injured were seeking cover from the wind and riding behind the group’s safety escort vehicle when the box truck Barson was driving crashed into them, according to a Nevada Highway Patrol report.

Field sobriety tests

Body-camera footage released by the Department of Public Safety on Wednesday shows a Highway Patrol trooper giving Barson three field sobriety tests — following the trooper’s finger with his eyes, walking and turning in a straight line, and standing on one foot.

Barson was unsteady and stumbled during the walking and balancing portions, the footage shows. Troopers on the scene attributed it to his emotional state, as Barson was frequently seen crying and distraught while talking with investigators.

“Trooper Holman stated that he had to stop both tests due to the emotional state of Mr. Barson and interference from the Mercy Air helicopter,” the arrest warrant said.

Bryant said all law enforcement officials in Nevada are trained to conduct three basic field sobriety tests to detect any impairment. But an officer certified as a drug recognition expert — of which there are only about 100 in the state — will conduct further tests, such as studying a person’s pulse rate, blood pressure or pupil measurements.

According to the warrant, Barson showed no clues in the trooper’s eye test but showed half of the clues indicating impairment in both the walk and turn and the balancing test.

Investigators meet with Barson

Additional body-worn camera footage released by the department on Wednesday shows two investigators speaking with Barson in his Arizona home Monday evening.

The 45-year-old was home with three others, including a girl identified in the video as his 16-year-old daughter. He was alone and sitting on his couch while speaking with investigators in his living room, with Christmas decorations on display in the background.

In the beginning of the conversation, Barson repeated what he said to investigators at the scene — that he didn’t remember the crash and believed he fell asleep behind the wheel.

When investigators broke the news to Barson that the blood test results showed methamphetamine in his system, Barson immediately admitted to being a recovering methamphetamine user who relapsed a few months ago. The investigators urged him to seek help if he was struggling with an addiction, and one trooper asked him why he relapsed.

“It’s a question that I ask myself all the time, because I have everything I want right here,” Barson said during the emotional conversation.

At other points in the conversation, Barson said through tears that he was afraid he was “going to prison forever” and that he felt guilty when thinking about the victims and their families.

“I feel so bad for them,” he said. “Like why did I survive that?”

Barson said he used methamphetamine the afternoon before the crash and then didn’t sleep well, waking up at 4:30 a.m. Dec. 10 to drive to Las Vegas for his job delivering packages.

Although Bryant did not comment directly on Barson’s case, he said that when someone is on the “downside” of a methamphetamine high, they can become sleepy and “less aware” of their surroundings. Someone on the downside will still test positive for the drug in a blood test, he said.

“The drug is not out of your system; the body has just been fighting the effect of the stimulant,” he said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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