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Parents say tests clear teen driver

Records dispute DUI claim

The parents of a South Whidbey teen who was involved in a high-profile crash last month say they have blood tests that prove their daughter is innocent of DUI.

Nicole Parnell was injured in an accident on Highway 525 on June 16. But while the State Patrol has said alcohol was a factor in the crash, and the county prosecutor’s office is reviewing the case for possible DUI charges, Parnell’s parents say their 17-year-old daughter had not been drinking the night of the crash.

Byron Parnell told The Record in an earlier interview that the DUI claim is bogus.

“I have a BAC test that shows negative,” he said.

Parnell provided The Record with the results of a blood alcohol content (BAC) test that he said showed his daughter had not been drinking before the accident.

Last week, the family presented a second document they said showed the results of another BAC test.

The newspaper was unsuccessful in finding an expert to review the results of the first BAC test until Monday.

The first test was performed in the emergency room at Whidbey General Hospital at 2 a.m. the day of the crash, a little over an hour after the accident was reported.

The results show “<5” milligrams per deciliter, (mg/dl,) of ethyl alcohol to blood. Under state law, a level of 80 mg/dl (.08) BAC is the accepted amount of alcohol to show signs of impairment, said Ann Marie Gordon, laboratory manager of the Washington State Toxicology Lab.

The second test was performed sometime after 4 a.m. after the teen arrived at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The page of test results given to the newspaper show the word “negative” within the ethyl alcohol line.

If someone were impaired by alcohol, a hospital sample would actually show elevated levels of alcohol in their test results, Gordon said, because they draw serum, which is thicker than whole blood.

“Hospital samples are measured in milligrams per deciliter and that is the same unit, so 80 mg/dl would be the same as .08,” she said.

“But the rub there is that most hospitals actually don’t measure BAC but serum alcohol, and it is going to be about 15 to 20 percent higher than a typical blood draw. So a person who is a .08 in whole blood draw would probably be .09 to a .10 in a serum alcohol,” Gordon said.

While the serum test results that Parnell provided The Record show the teen was not impaired by alcohol at the time of the accident, the results have not been independently verified.

However, after hearing the results listed on the outpatient chemical summary report for the driver, Gordon told The Record that Nicole would not have been intoxicated by alcohol.

“But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t impaired unless they tested for other things. Other things do cause impairment,” she said. “I can say she was not under the influence of alcohol.”

The Island County Prosecutor’s Office continues to review the case.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or at swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com

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