Indiana police departments armed with new tool to combat drug-impaired driving

Indianapolis Area Crime
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AVON, Ind. – In April of 2016, a 26-year-old woman named Lisa Strueh was killed in a car accident in Avon. A witness told police the driver who hit her ran a red light. Court documents claim the toxicology report indicated the man was driving with marijuana or its metabolite in his blood.

“She was actually engaged 11 days before she was killed in the accident,” said Denise Niblick, sister of Strueh.

Niblick explains her sister was driving home from her nursing shift at Community East Hospital. She was just a few blocks away from home.

“It is so preventable. That is 100 percent preventable to just not get behind the wheel,” she said.

This month, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) provided 52 Indiana law enforcement agencies with a new roadside tool to identify and keep drug-impaired drivers off the road.

The device is called the SoToxa Mobile Testing System. It is a handheld analyzer that uses an oral fluid swab to detect the presence of six kinds of drugs: cocaine, methamphetamine, opiates, cannabis (THC), amphetamine and benzodiazepines.

The Avon Police Department plans to begin using the device the first of the new year.

“The goal here is to hold people accountable to make an impact in our community,” said Brian Nugent, Deputy Chief of Avon Police.

Deputy Chief Nugent said they have seen an upward trend of impaired driving and drugged driving in Avon. It is a trend nationwide.

According to a 2018 Governors Highway Safety Association report, 44 percent of fatally injured drivers with known results tested positive for drugs in 2016. That is up from 28 percent 10 years earlier.

The report found 38 percent tested positive for some form of marijuana, 16% tested positive for opioids, and 4% tested positive for both marijuana and opioids.

“Individuals are finding other ways to find themselves impaired as opposed to just alcohol consumption,” said Deputy Chief Nugent.

Like a portable breathalyzer, the SoToxa test can be refused, and the results cannot be used as evidence in court to determine if the driver was impaired. The ICJI says the purpose of the test is to further establish probable cause, which can be used by the officer to make an arrest, administer a certified breath test, take the suspect for medical treatment or apply for a warrant to administer a blood draw.

The units cost $4,500 each, are reusable and were paid for with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funds.

Rob Duckworth, ICJI Traffic Safety Director, said that while departments can purchase SoToxa directly at any time, Indiana is one of the first states in the nation, along with Michigan, to have distributed the devices statewide.

Niblick and her family share Strueh’s story to discourage people from getting behind the wheel while impaired. They hope this new device will do the same.

“Being able to save a life is what it is all about,” she said.

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