AUSTIN (KXAN) — AAA of Texas and local leaders gathered in Austin Tuesday to discuss ways to tackle the growing issue of drugged driving as many states around the country legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.
Jessica Melott lost her mother in the Uvalde church bus crash that killed 13 people. Investigators say Jack Young, 20, of Leakey, Texas, was driving along Highway 83 near Garner State Park on March 29 when he struck the bus carrying 14 people.
“Anytime I see something about marijuana being legalized all I can think about was that the young man that hit my mom’s bus head-on had marijuana in his system,” says Melott.
The preliminary report states Young crossed over the solid white line 37 times and entered the grass roadside at least five times before hitting the church bus. Young told investigators he had been taking prescription medications prior to the crash, including clonazepam and the generic forms of Lexapro and Ambien.
In total, Young is facing 28 felony charges. He is charged with manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter for each of the 13 victims who died in the crash. For the one victim who survived the crash, Young is charged with intoxication assault and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
“I hope I am able to speak out against drugged driving,” says Melott. “I hope they will see it’s real people that are affected when those who get behind the wheel and they’re impaired. They’re not just potentially hurting themselves but they’re hurting many others.”
A recent survey by AAA found there is an increase in drugged driving arrests and crashes across the state. However, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that states with legalized recreational marijuana don’t have a greater increase of car crash deaths.
Training police officers to recognize drugged drivers is currently a challenge for smaller agencies explains AAA spokesperson Daniel Armbruster. “Drug recognition enforcement officers and the city of Austin, my understanding, is pretty well to go in that area,” says Armbruster. “It’s the smaller communities around Texas, we’re seeing smaller departments that don’t have the funding or availability to send those officers out for training. Get the tools to all the officers across the state of Texas needed to detect drivers who may be impaired either by illicit drugs or prescription drugs.”
With own teenagers hitting the roads this year, Melott is using her mother’s death to educate others about the dangers of impaired driving. “I want them to understand, their friends understand, their actions do affect others.”