Big Ol’ Can Of Worms Dept.

A New Jersey man is charged as an accomplice in a DUI fatality even though he wasn’t in the car. Kenneth Powell was called to pick up his friend Michael Prangle, who’d been busted after blowing a 0.21 on the breathalyzer, from jail. Powell took Prangle back to his car, where Prangle proceeded to crash headon into a car driven by Navy Ensign John Elliott, killing Elliott and himself, and injuring Elliott’s girlfriend.

Powell maintains that he wasn’t fully informed of Prangle’s condition. The state police says that Powell was fully informed, was told that Prangle shouldn’t drive, and that Prangle was visibly intoxicated besides.

Complicating matters is that state law at the time of this incident was unclear. A new law was passed last year in response to this that would allow police to impound drunk drivers’ cars for 12 hours, and also spells out what to tell someone who comes to bail out a drunk driver, including what penalties they may face if they let the driver get back behind a wheel too soon.

I’m inclined to think that Kenneth Powell bears some responsibility for John Elliott’s death (and Michael Prangles’, for that matter). I don’t know that his level of culpability rises to manslaughter charges, though. It’s the same problem I have with laws that make party hosts and bartenders partially responsible for DUI accidents – ultimately, the fault lies with the person who gets behind the wheel. Some people don’t look as drunk as they are, some people will sneak off when you’re busy elsewhere – it’s a lot to ask to make a third party their keeper.

It will be interesting to see what a jury (and most likely an appeals court) makes of this.

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