State police say there was probable cause to arrest Eagles Mere ambulance driver on suspicion of DUI
The state police on Sunday defended themselves against allegations by the Eagles Mere Ambulance Association that their "arrest" of an ambulance driver earlier this month did not occur and that there wouldn't have been probable cause to make such an arrest anyway.
Eagles Mere Ambulance Association driver John Huhn, 67, "was taken into custody (by the state police) on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol" after the ambulance that he was driving crashed at 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 13 in Shrewsbury Township while transporting a patient to a hospital, State Police Cpl. David Judge said on Sunday. Huhn "was arrested," Judge said.
And there was probable cause to make the arrest, Judge said, citing the fact that Huhn had admitted to drinking alcohol earlier that day and that he failed field sobriety tests at the accident scene.
"We just don't arrest people," Judge said. "We need probable cause (to make an arrest)."
However, DUI charges will not be filed against Huhn because a blood test showed that the amount of alcohol in Huhn's blood at the time of the crash "was below the legal limit," Judge said on Sunday.
"It happens" that a blood test will sometimes show that the amount of alcohol in a person arrested on suspicion of DUI was below the legal limit, Judge said. "Not often, but it happens."
Eagles Mere Ambulance Association Capt. Richard Schaefer had told The Daily Review on Friday that Huhn had not been arrested after the crash and had not been "restrained" by the police.
Schaefer had said the only reason that Huhn had undergone the blood test was because the Eagles Mere Volunteer Fire Company, which owns the ambulance association, had wanted the test done.
Schaefer said that the investigating state trooper had offered to give Huhn a ride to the Laporte Medical Center to get the test done, because the trooper was driving back to the state police barracks in Laporte anyway at the time.
Schaefer had also said that the amount of alcohol that Huhn consumed was so small and the consumption occurred so many hours before the crash that it would not have affected his driving, Schaefer said.
Huhn "was not in any way under the influence of alcohol" at the time of the crash, Schaefer said.
But Cpl. Judge said that Schaefer, who suffered a head injury in the accident, had been taken in an ambulance to a local hospital shortly after the investigating state trooper, Donald Cole, arrived on the scene. Therefore, Schaefer may not have witnessed a lot of what took place at the accident scene, including conversations between police and members of the fire company and ambulance association, Judge said.
"There was a discussion between, I believe, the Eagles Mere fire chief and Trooper Cole (at the accident scene)," Judge said. "I believe it was brought up by the fire chief that their insurance company probably would request him to be tested."
But the reason police transported Huhn to the Laporte Medical Center was not because the fire company wanted the test done, but because Huhn was suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol and police needed the test done to determine whether to file DUI charges against Huhn, Judge said.
"If Trooper Cole had not had probable cause to arrest Huhn, then he would not have taken him to the Laporte Medical Center (for the test)," Judge said. "It would have been up to the ambulance service and the fire company to take him."
Judge declined to reveal the amount of alcohol that was in Huhn's blood, other than to say it was "below the legal limit." The legal limit for adult drivers is .08 percent.
"I can't say (the exact amount of alcohol that was in Huhn's blood)," Judge said. "That's part of the investigation."
Huhn, who is a resident of Eagles Mere, was driving a 2000 Ford 550 ambulance south on state Route 3007 in Shrewsbury Township at 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 13 when he failed to negotiate a left-hand curve in the roadway, according to the state police at Laporte.
The ambulance traveled off the western side of the roadway and into a ditch, state police said.
At the time of the crash, the ambulance, which is owned by the Eagles Mere Ambulance Association, was transporting 45-year-old Kathleen Smith of Eagles Mere from her home to Geisinger Medial Center in Danville. Smith was uninjured in the crash, but two emergency medical technicians from Eagles Mere - Schaefer and Lee Hays, 79, - suffered minor injuries.
Following the crash, Kathleen Smith was transported by Muncy Valley Emergency Medical Services to Geisinger Medical Center, Eagles Mere Fire Chief Brian Smith said.
Schaefer and Hays were transported by Laporte Emergency Medical Services to Muncy Valley Hospital for treatment of their injuries, Brian Smith said.
The ambulance sustained minor damage in the crash, state police said.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.