Some question new way MO Highway Patrol gathers drunk driving evidence

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - The Missouri Highway Patrol appears to have changed the way it handles blood evidence collected from suspected drunk drivers.

DUI Attorney Matt Fry says, “It makes no sense. There is absolutely no way that someone can sit here and defend this position.”

Fry is reacting to the Highway Patrol`s newly released 'blood specimen handling procedures,' which says 'neither the forensic handbook nor patrol policy requires the refrigeration of a blood sample.'

Fry added, “I was shocked. I mean at first I said to myself, is it a budgetary issue? Is it laziness? Is it trying to create a loophole for the officer who make a mistake? Because it`s not good practice. It`s not good science.”

He says the science recommends refrigerating blood. Former police officer Travis Jones explained why. Jones said, “Any sugars in it that can cause a type of reaction that can have the lab not be able to do a proper analysis of it.”

Jones says refrigeration keeps blood from producing its own alcohol, which he said is called blood fermentation. A study by Dr. Joyce Chang is often cited. It says in part 'fermentation was found to be highly temperature dependent, with refrigeration proving to be the most effective at inhibiting ethanol formation.'

In February, The Fox Files investigated how the Highway Patrol handled evidence in a suspected drunk driving case in Central Missouri. A former trooper talked about his former agency’s blood handling and called for a shakeup after the case was thrown out by an Appeals Court. Then two days later the patrol emailed us the policy for blood evidence, saying refrigeration is not required.

Retired Sgt. Randy Henry said at the time, “Obviously they`ve shown that they can`t be trusted.

Former Sgt. Henry is the whistleblower who blamed the patrol for ‘killing Brandon Ellingson.’ Ellingson, a boating while drunk suspect, was ejected from another trooper`s patrol boat. He was handcuffed and improperly secured in the wrong type of life jacket, allowing him to drown. He remained lost underwater overnight. Henry questioned the blood alcohol results of Ellingson and another questionable case, wrong way driver Kelli Smith whose blood went unrefrigerated for ten days.

Henry said, “The refrigerator is there for a reason.” He discussed refrigeration and said, “That`s what the lab wants us to do and that`s why the state spent all this money on refrigerators for every zone office in the state.”

However, the Highway Patrol email on blood evidence says those refrigerators are for urine, rather than blood.

I asked former Officer Jones, who now trains law enforcement.. “How concerned should a member of the public be that the largest law enforcement branch in the state says this.” He answered, “It would be concerning because the general practice in the science community says to do this in order to have the accurate result.”

I contacted the Department of Public Safety to make sure the Highway Patrol email was not simply a mistake. A DPS spokesman confirmed the Patrol’s protocol. He included two studies, including one from Forensic Science International in which researchers left blood out in room temperature for months and none of those samples fermented.

Attorney fry added, “Maybe I`m being an optimist here, but I truly hope that they are not doing this.” He continued, “I`ve had officers make a mistake. I`ve had them forget, but I`ve never had someone purposely do it because it`s bad science. If you have a memorandum that`s going out to officers telling them that they don`t have to do it, they might not do it and then we`re going to have a serious issue on our hand.”

DPS connected me with the former head of the Missouri Prosecutor’s Association, out of Buchanan County. He contended that fermentation is a Defense attorney argument that’s not credible. He said most police departments are moving towards refrigeration of blood, but he said it’s because of a fear blood alcohol might decrease in a non-refrigerated blood sample.