LAS VEGAS (AP) - Bail was set Thursday at $50,000 for an off-duty Nevada Highway Patrol sergeant accused of smoking marijuana before plowing his vehicle into the back of another car in a three-vehicle crash that left one person dead and two others hurt.
A Las Vegas judge also ordered Edward Lattin, 46, to submit to random drug tests and give up driving until his criminal case is resolved.
Lattin is a 20-year NHP veteran whose most recent assignment was
investigating fatal crashes. He remains suspended with pay from the
Highway Patrol pending a department hearing.
Lattin appeared by videoconference from the Clark County jail where he has been held since surrendering to authorities Tuesday.
Dressed in blue jail scrubs with his wrists shackled to a waist chain, Lattin stood straight and answered, "Yes, your honor," when asked if he understood the charge against him. He was not asked to enter a plea.
Lattin faces a mandatory two to 20 years in prison if convicted of felony driving under the influence of a controlled substance or a prohibited substance resulting in death.
Lattin's lawyer, John Watkins, declared Lattin "innocent at this point in time," and cited Lattin's service as a trooper since 1988 in seeking his release without bail on a promise to appear for future court dates.
Lattin's wife, Kristin, sobbed in the courtroom as prosecutor L.J. O'Neale acknowledged Lattin's role as a veteran supervisor of a fatal accident investigation team for the Nevada Highway Patrol.
"Sgt. Lattin has done worlds of good, and there's no denying that," O'Neale said. "But if there's one person who should know better, it's him."
Judge Eugene Martin said he had to treat Lattin "like anyone else." He set bail at half the $100,000 that O'Neale sought and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Tuesday. O'Neale and prosecutor Bruce Nelson said they may present the case to a grand jury.
Las Vegas police say Lattin's Ford F-150, bearing the license plate "KLINGON," was traveling 53 to 58 mph when it slammed into the back of a Toyota sedan stopped in a center turn lane about 1:30 p.m. June 11 on a busy boulevard several miles west of the Las Vegas Strip. The posted speed limit is 45 mph.
A passenger in the Toyota, Ying Warren, 49, was killed when she was thrown from the car as it spun into oncoming traffic and was hit by a Chevrolet pickup. The drivers of the Toyota and the Chevrolet pickup were treated for various injuries and released.
Witnesses told police that just before the crash Lattin's pickup almost struck another car and ran up on a sidewalk before swerving across three traffic lanes and hitting the Toyota.
Police later said Lattin's blood contained levels of the active ingredient in marijuana that were about 2½ times above the limit that state law presumes a person to be impaired.
Police said Lattin had 5.6 nanograms per milliliter of delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana in his blood, along with 26 nanograms per milliliter of THC carboxylic acid, a marijuana metabolite. The state limit is 2 nanograms of THC.
Outside court, Nelson said the amount of marijuana in Lattin's blood "would be consistent with having used it three to four hours
before" the crash.
Nevada Department of Public Safety spokesman Dan Burns said Lattin faces two departmental disciplinary proceedings that could lead to his dismissal if he had an illegal substance in his blood. Lattin was paid $76,000 last year, Burns said.
Watkins denied that Lattin was impaired by marijuana. He said Lattin is diabetic, and might have had a reaction to a blood sugar level fluctuation or another medical episode while driving.
The question of impairment could be crucial in the case, which bears similarities to the DUI case that led to the 2001 conviction of former Las Vegas exotic dancer Jessica Williams in the deaths of six teenagers in a freeway crash.
Prosecutors, including Nelson, presented evidence that Williams had 5.5 nanograms per milliliter of THC in her blood - about the same amount as Lattin - along with trace amounts of Ecstasy.
Watkins represented Williams, who admitted smoking marijuana but denied she was impaired when her car, traveling about 75 mph, drifted into a dirt center median on Interstate 15 and mowed down juvenile detention crew members picking up trash. Williams said she fell asleep at the wheel.
A jury in February 2001 convicted Williams, now 29, of driving with a prohibited substance in her blood.
Williams was sentenced to 18 to 48 years in prison. Watkins has lost appeals to the state Supreme Court, but has an appeal pending in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. He maintains the Nevada state law covering driving while under the influence of marijuana is unconstitutional.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)