Utah Crime Lab Makes a Mistake in a Utah DUI Charge

I was called on the phone today by KSL News today about a story that was unfolding.  A man hit and killed a UPS driver.  He was charged with a Vehiclular Hommicide by the goverment.  The Utah State Toxicology Lab tested his blood and came back with a result of .19.  The man was in disbelief, said he had not drank in 20 years.  The blood was then tested by a private lab.  Guess what?  the result was .000.  The State Lab then retested the sample and came up with .000.

How could this happen?  The lab claims that a number was transposed from a 9 to an 8.  I don’t know what that means.  However, a sample is supposed to be tested 4 times with preliminary tests and then confirmation tests.  If nobody questioned this test and the sample was never retested, this poor man would be facing felony charges. 

That sad comment that the Lab superviser made was that "We’re reminded of the effects that our work has on real people."   You have to be kidding me.  This reminds you that people are going to jail over your mistakes!



Homicide charge dropped following blood test mistake
January 28th, 2009 @ 5:02pm
By Nicole Gonzales and Marc Giauque

The Tooele County Attorney’s Office is dropping vehicular homicide charges against a man involved in a fatal Tooele accident in December. Steven Jakeman was facing the charges in connection with the death of UPS driver Alan Christofferson. Jakeman told KSL he was innocent and the blood alcohol test was contaminated.

According to the attorney’s office, there was a mistake in the initial blood test. After retesting his blood, prosecutors are sure he wasn’t under the influence at the time.

Turns out it was a human error made at the state crime lab that resulted in the blood-alcohol content reading double the legal limit.

Both the prosecutor and the lab supervisor say they’re sorry this happen, but they’re also relieved they caught the mistake before the case went any further. Tooele County Attorney Gary Searle said, "We found the truth, and we found the facts. Mr. Jakeman was not under the influence of alcohol."

Three weeks ago, Steven Jakeman told KSL he was innocent in the vehicular homicide case brought against him. He said, "I don’t drink. I’m a firm believer. I grew up in an alcoholic home. I just don’t believe in alcohol, and I’ve been clean from drugs and alcohol for 20 years. He wasn’t lying.

And now there’s proof. Today, Searle said, "Mr. Jakeman was not under the influence of alcohol. His name should be cleared of that. I hope it’s made clear. This was a mistake."

That mistake started with the initial testing of Jakeman’s blood. Apparently, a technician misread the digits on a sample tube of his blood: a rare mistake. Gambrelli Layco with the Bureau of Forensic Toxicology said, "We did make an error in this case for transposing one number from a nine to an eight … There’s never been an instance of alcohol being reported incorrectly before."

When prosecutors had the blood retested at a private lab, Jakeman’s BAC levels came back triple zeros, no alcohol at all. To be safe, they had it retested with the state lab. Same result.

Searle said, "It would be stupid for me to say that he didn’t go through any trauma or have any heartache over being charged. Who wouldn’t have heartache or concern with being charged with a felony?

Now the crime lab is taking extra precautions to make sure this never happens again, including extra steps of verification, supervisors double-checking work and case reviews at the end.

Supervisors say they’re turning this into a positive learning experience. Layco said, "We’re reminded of the effects that our work has on real people."

The attorney’s office says they might still file charges for failure to yield and a license issue. Either way, he’s no longer facing a felony charge.

Jakeman claimed that diesel fuel at the scene of the accident contaminated his blood, resulting in a reading of .19 blood alcohol content. Prosecutors say that although that theory was interesting, it was false.

The crash happened on State Road 36 on Dec 1. Christofferson was killed in the accident. 

One response to “Utah Crime Lab Makes a Mistake in a Utah DUI Charge”

  1. Thank you for sharing this story, Glen.

    This portion of the story from the Salt Lake Tribune is also troubling:

    It turned out that an analyst misread a numerical code identifying the sample and labeled it incorrectly, likely right after the blood sample was received, bureau director Gambrelli Layco said. While the blood was analyzed correctly, the lab passed along the results of a different case.

    The analyst responsible has been assigned to a different rotation, and the lab will change its procedures so analysts will check the labeling three more times, Layco said. It was the first such incident for the lab, she said.

    How could Layco possibly know that this was the State Lab’s first mistake, or did she mean this was the first time that the State Lab has been caught making a mistake?


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