Possible DUI on Drugs Causes $60 Million in Damage

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Sometimes, driving under the influence of drugs affects only the driver who gets pulled over and arrested. Other times, DUI can have a serious and lasting impact on the community, the government and the environment. According to the San Francisco Gate, an incident that happened last November may fall into the second category.

Captain John Cota, 60, was driving a ship on November 7, 2007 that contained 53,000 gallons of oil. Cota reportedly ran the ship into the support tower of a bridge, spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay and wreaking havoc on the area's wildlife and beaches.

The Associated Press reports that Cota had been charged with criminal negligence and killing or wounding migratory birds - two misdemeanor environmental crimes. But new information about the several prescription drugs Cota was allegedly using when he crashed the ship have led the court to add two charges of lying to Coast Guard officials on his 2006 and 2007 medical exams for renewal of his pilot's license. The new charges are felonies.

So what drugs were in Cota's system at the time of the accident? According to his defense lawyer, the new charges are irrelevant, since chemical tests taken two hours after the crash evidently showed no significant amount of intoxicating substances in Cota's bloodstream.

But medical records apparently show that Cota was taking separate meds for pain, anxiety, wakefulness and migraines. And, according to sources, Cota was arrested for DUI in 1999, has had problems with alcohol abuse and suffered from several medical conditions that demanded he take strong medications.

The interaction of the various drugs, according to reports, could have led to a considerable level of impairment.

Considering the crash directly killed more than 2,000 birds, forced officials to close down beaches in the San Francisco Bay area and cost the government an estimated $60 million in cleanup expenses, Cota's failure to disclose his use of medication could prove disastrous to his case.

Cota's lawyer has reportedly claimed that Cota disclosed all requested information on his medical forms, and Coast Guard officials only noticed that he was on potentially impairing prescription medications during a post-crash review of his medical files. The lawyer evidently argued that Cota would have provided a more complete disclosure of his medications' side effects had medical personnel asked him.

Sources indicate that, as of now, Cota's pilot's license has been suspended and could be permanently revoked if he's found guilty.


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