A state-employed chemist who has testified hundreds of times about the effects of medication said Wednesday that an Indianapolis truck driver had higher amounts of medication in his system than prescribed at the time of a 2018 interstate crash into a disabled school bus that injured multiple children.
“Drugs are often prescribed past their therapeutic intent,” said Michael Knutsen, senior chemist for the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene. “It can be impairing, yes.”
Wayne Murphy, 43, faces numerous charges in Columbia County Circuit Court for allegedly taking too much of his prescribed medication and hitting the bus on the shoulder of Interstate 39/90/94 near Arlington on May 23, 2018.
Under questioning from Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Tara Jenswold during the third day of Murphy’s trial, Knutsen said the effects of Alprazolam and Sertraline found in Murphy’s blood could potentially cause grogginess, disorientation and sleepiness.
Defense attorney Ronald Benavides objected, raising concerns about the qualifications of Knutsen’s testimony.
Judge Troy Cross overruled the defense’s objection and allowed Knutsen to speak.
Knutsen said generally speaking, people driving while under the influence of those two medications commonly deviate from their lane of traffic.
“A lot of people end up in the ditch,” Knutsen said.
Knutsen testified that 65 nanograms per milliliter of Alprazolam were found in Murphy’s bloodstream after the crash. He said the therapeutic range varies between 5 and 50 nanograms per millimeter, depending on the person, according to scientific literature.
Benavides pressed Knutsen about the 15 nanograms of difference in medication and questioned whether Knutsen could definitively say Murphy was impaired solely based on the findings. Knutsen said he could not.
During opening arguments Monday, Assistant District Attorney Jordan Lippert said the excess dosage led Murphy to crash his semi into the disabled school bus, injuring multiple Milwaukee children headed to Wisconsin Dells.
Benavides said earlier this week Murphy was transporting a top-heavy load during potentially hazardous weather conditions out of his control.
Wisconsin State Patrol Sgt. Richard Todd Krisher testified Wednesday that the semi and its load were evenly distributed and weighed less than the legal limit of 80,000 gross pounds.
Krisher said an air hose was frayed and a refrigeration unit’s fuel tank was empty. Those issues were not factors in the crash, he said, but they indicated the driver failed to properly inspect his truck before driving it.
“This is something the driver should have caught in his pre-trip inspection,” Krisher said, adding an air hose repair at a truck stop should take 30 minutes.
Under cross-examination, Krisher said data from the semi indicated Murphy did not press the brakes hard enough to trigger a computer record of dropping speed significantly in less than one second.
“He didn’t dynamite his brakes,” Krisher said.
Dr. Adam Brinkman with the American Family Children’s Hospital testified Wednesday about five injured children he treated in the Madison hospital’s intensive care unit following the crash.
One 17-year-old girl was unresponsive and had trouble breathing. Brinkman said “she was lethargic and moaning” and required a ventilator, blood transfusion and IV catheter for a collapsed right lung.
Jenswold asked Brinkman whether the 17-year-old girl’s injuries could affect her for the rest of her life.
“Potentially,” Brinkman said.