Dowagiac man 'super drunk,' jury says
Penalty could be stiff for exceeding 0.17 percent blood-alcohol level
This week in Cass County 4th District Court, a Dowagiac resident, Peter Edwards Jr., 46, attempted to prove at trial he wasn't guilty of Michigan's relatively new "super drunk" law when he was driving his car on Michigan 51 near Pokagon Street, south of Dowagiac, on June 25. But a six-person jury disagreed, taking less than 15 minutes to convict him of driving with a blood-alcohol level above 0.17 percent and thus exceeding the "super drunk" standard.
Cass Prosecutor Victor Fitz said Edwards is the second person in recent months to mount an unsuccessful challenge to the state's enhanced drunken-driving law. In October, Charles Ryan, a native of Illinois, also was convicted at a jury trial of violating the standard.
"Combining a high blood-alcohol level with driving is an extreme danger," Fitz said.
Fitz credited an alert resident with tipping off police regarding Edwards' actions the morning of June 25. According to the prosecutor, the resident, an employee of Frontier Communications, was on his way to a work site when he noticed a white Ford Escort had traveled off the highway and careened into high grass. Edwards, the employee noticed, rocked the auto back and forth and eventually managed to maneuver it to the side of the road.
The worker said he turned his vehicle around and as he drove slowly by the Escort, he could hear Edwards speaking in an angry tone. Because his words were slurred, he believed Edwards might be intoxicated and called 911.
Deputies with the Cass County Sheriff's Office reported observing Edwards changing a tire when they pulled up. Tire tracks, Fitz said, indicated the auto had left the road and mowed down a speed-limit sign before traveling through a grassy area and returning to the road.
Although Edwards denied running his car off the road, the vehicle featured damage consistent with knocking down the sign, Fitz said. Also, assistant county prosecutor Melissa Sytsma, who tried the case, introduced photographs that revealed the car's path and recently cut roadside grass on the front end of the auto.
Blood drawn from Edwards at Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 percent.
Sentencing for Edwards is set for Feb. 16. Motorists convicted under the law face up to 180 days in jail, as opposed to the 93 days drivers could receive for exceeding a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level.
Staff writer Lou Mumford: