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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Fatal Teen Crash Less Than An Hour After Police Pull Over Vehicle

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Two teens were killed and two others injured in a car crash in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.

The 19-year-old driver was headed south on 291 Highway when he hit a pole. The vehicle overturned before catching on fire. The driver and a 17-year-old passenger died at the scene. The two injured teens were treated at the hospital. Family members said the teens had been at a house party in Excelsior Springs and were headed to Independence. The driver’s family believes he may have fallen asleep behind the wheel. The accident occurred around 4:20 a.m.

The crash is under investigation, but a police stop that took place an hour before the fatal crash has raised many questions. Police said that they pulled over the subject vehicle that the teenagers were in because three passengers were hanging out of the windows and hollering. The light over the license plate was out. During the stop, the officer detected an “odor of alcohol” coming from inside the vehicle, although no alcohol or alcoholic beverage containers were found. The passengers admitted that they had consumed alcohol at a party before being picked up by the 19-year-old designated driver. Police asked the driver to exit the vehicle and perform a series of field sobriety tests; he exhibited no sign of impairment. When the driver took a breath test, his blood alcohol content was less than half of .02 percent (.02 is the minimum amount Missouri law uses to define a “minor in possession”). With no legal justification to further detain the driver, he and the other teens were released from the vehicle stop.

What really caused the accident? Did the driver fall asleep at the wheel as his family assumes? Was he distracted by his intoxicated passengers or otherwise distracted (talking on mobile, texting, operating the radio, etc.)? When one of the surviving teens was questioned in the hospital, he said that he only remembers police pulling over the car but nothing else.

Some commenters to media reports questioned why the police let the driver go if he had any BAC level above zero and was underage. Isn’t any BAC above zero too much, especially for a minor? Should the driver have been charged with possession by consumption?

We don’t know enough about this case to make any assumptions as to what the conditions were leading up to the crash. What we do know is that by law, the officers had no right to hold the driver. He was not “visibly impaired” nor was he considered a danger to society. That presents other questions — Is the law too lenient? Should officers have more authority to make ‘gut’ decisions? Should they be authorized to confiscate the keys? Or, do they already have too much discretion in these situations? What do you think?

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.