Rochester, N.Y. – A not guilty verdict in a vehicular manslaughter trial has focused attention on state laws prohibiting driving while ability impaired on drugs.
John Ariano drove through a stop sign in Wheatland last July, hitting a Jeep drive by John “Jack” Blair, who was killed. Ariano had marijuana and alprazolam, an anti-anxity drug, in his system.
Ariano was charged with vehicular manslaughter, driving while ability impaired by drugs and driving while ability impaired by a combination of drugs.
Judge Frank Geraci, who presided over Ariano’s bench trial, found him not guilty of all charges. Geraci said there was not enough evidence the drugs in Ariano’s system caused him to be impaired and led to the crash. None of the deputies and other witnesses noted he was impaired. Ariano had been driving well under the speed limit and a driver who followed him for 7 miles didn’t notice any erratic driving.
“There was no impairment,” said Christopher Schiano, Ariano’s attorney. “It was not a popular verdict, but it was the right one.”
Schiano said his entire case was built around the fact New York State doesn’t have a threshold for how much marijuana a driver can have in his system. He said this was a rare vehicular manslaughter case because it didn’t involve any alcohol use.
“Obviously driving while intoxicated you have .08,” said Assistant District Attorney Amanda Balling. “If you have above .08, the law assumes you’re intoxicated. We don’t have that for marijuana, so even though in our case we had a very high level of marijuana at 5.4 nanograms, there’s nothing according to New York State to say someone’s impaired.”
Blair’s family was devastated by the verdict and called for tougher marijuana and driving laws. Blair was a Xerox retiree with many grandchildren.
“This outcome was a complete slap in the face,” said his son, Kent Blair. “We were trying to get some closure to this. Right now, it just doesn’t feel like there’s any closure.”