At first glance, the deadly crash on Sept. 26, 2014, that killed four baseball players from North Central College appeared to have been caused by distracted driving.
After an in depth investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), it was revealed that the trucker, 53-year-old Russell Staley, was driving under the influence of synthetic marijuana, also referred to as a synthetic cannabinoid. The driver, with a documented history of drug use, crashed his semi into the bus carrying the team.
The team bus was heading home to Gainsville, Texas, when the big rig maneuvered its way through a slight curve, drifted across the driving lane, barreled through a 100-foot-wide median and traveled on for more than 366 yards, ramming into the smaller bus. Four died, five were seriously injured, and six passengers, in addition to the drivers, sustained minor injuries.
Although synthetic marijuana, like other synthetic drugs, is sold as legally and as a cheaper alternative, the effects of smoking the chemical compound may cause seizures, psychosis and non-responsiveness. The main issue according to the NTSB is that while there are laws prohibiting truckers from driving while impaired, only a few such substances are tested per federal regulations.
The reality is that the world of drugs is changing far faster than laws can keep up to those changes. There is a new, emerging class of synthetic drugs, and employers and law enforcement need better tools at their disposal to detect an impaired driver. Even though the NTSB made recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) about dealing with synthetic chemical compounds, it may be some time before anything is done.