Saturday, December 08, 2012

Dennis Drue: The Rush to Judgment

A few days ago I got a call about a drunk driving case. Early in the conversation I realized this was going to be different.

This was actually about the Northway accident that killed two Shenendehowa students. The caller was a 16-year-old girl from a nearby town. She had all sorts of questions about how the "killer" had been able to get his license back after multiple DWI convictions and other problems. She was very upset by the deaths, and looking for answers.

I hadn't heard about the case yet. But something didn't sound right. I started reading news articles and reading what Albany friends were saying about it on Facebook.

The newspaper reports indicated that Dennis Drue was driving another car and there was an accident between his vehicle and the Shenendehowa vehicle. There were suggestions that Drue had been drinking, and that his vehicle was going 70 or 75 mph, but these were not hard facts. It quickly came out that Drue's license had been revoked in February 2009 (over 3 years ago) for having 3 speeding convictions. It was reinstated in 2010, which is normal. He also had some criminal history but it also appears to be old (2008) and fairly minor. Then there are more recent allegations from his landlord.

One friend of mine on Facebook demonstrated the vitriol directed at Mr. Drue:

he has multiple convictions for speeding which resulted in his suspended driving priviliedges for a year, ... Couple that with multiple instances of illegal substance abuse arrests/dealing complaints or ticketing, and oh by the way observation by police, ... he is a drug using, drug selling lowlife.

And there's this lovely image accusing Drue of causing these deaths because he "had a party behind the wheel."

Source: DWI Hit Parade

Despite multiple reports that no charges have been filed against Drue yet, some say charges against him are "pending." Examples include News10 and YNN. That seems to be false and arguably actionable defamation. There's no indication he ever had a DWI arrest before. There are suggestions of drug problems, but at the same time he appears to have been doing well in school.

Initial anger that Drue may have been drunk appear to have been false, as the blood test report came back low. Now they're looking to see if there are any other drugs in his blood. Even if they do find something, it will be difficult to prove such drugs "impaired" his driving.

While some are labeling Drue a murderer, we do not know yet how this accident happened. Police appear to be doing an accident reconstruction. They will use tire marks and other marks on the pavement, along with other evidence, to try to piece together what happened. Accident reconstruction is far from perfect. We had a case in Saratoga County where the police reconstruction had my client's 5' long motorcycle making tire marks that were 7' apart. Indeed, one news report indicated that one of the victims was ejected from the vehicle. This suggests she was not wearing her seatbelt.

It is unfortunate that so many people have rushed to judgment on Dennis Drue. We don't know yet what happened, and we may never know for sure. His lawyer, Steve Coffey, deserves some credit for trying to bring out Drue's positive side: Troy Record.

We all feel for the victims and their families and friends. But this is a time for calm, reasoned review, rather than hasty and angry judgments. While Drue may or may not be responsible for this crash, we should look at all possible ways to prevent such incidents and minimize the damage that causes.