Ex-solicitor denies drink-drive charge

A former Invercargill Crown prosecutor is defending a charge of being incapable of driving because she was under the influence of drink, claiming a police officer and doctor mistook her behaviour after a car crash.

Susan Margaret Sandford, 42, manager of Arthurs Point, gave evidence in the Queenstown District Court this week against the charge, which stemmed from a crash she caused on November 17.

Constable Hugh O'Reilly, of Queenstown, said he arrived at the scene of the crash in Park St about 7.25pm, and found Sandford and several parked cars she had crashed into after she failed to take a slight bend in the road.

He said the first thing she said to him was: "I think I'm in trouble".

O'Reilly said Sandford was unsteady on her feet, had bloodshot eyes and needed to use her car to lean on to stand up.

She also had a cut on her head but refused medical treatment.

After she admitted she had been drinking, he gave her a breath test, which found her breath-alcohol level to be more than 400 micrograms, the legal driving limit.

An ambulance was called when Sandford agreed to have treatment to the cut and she was taken to the Lakes District Hospital, where a blood sample was taken to formally test for alcohol.

However, the sample could not be processed and Sandford was charged with driving under the influence of drink to such extent as to be incapable of having proper control of a vehicle.

Sandford said she had only two glasses of wine and her behaviour was because of a serious head injury she suffered in another car crash in 2001.

Sandford spent two weeks in intensive care and six months in hospital recovering after the earlier crash, and a neuropsychologist told her she would not be able to work as a solicitor again.

Lawyer Phil McDonald said a specialist report presented to the court showed Sandford could appear intoxicated even when she had not consumed alcohol.

Police prosecutor Ian Collin said a medical report made at the hospital after the crash said the doctor observed that Sandford "was happily intoxicated".

However, McDonald said Sandford's behaviour had been mistaken for intoxication after she had received a knock to the head.

The judge questioned Sandford on "inconsistencies" in her evidence.

She had stated she could not remember anything before the crash, and then said her eye felt funny moments before the crash and she thought she must have lost a contact lens.

The judge reserved his decision.

The Southland Times