K2 Spice Caused Fatal Crash in OK
Four players from the North Texas Community College softball team lost their lives while traveling through Oklahoma on their way home in late September when a tractor-trailer driven by a distracted driver drove into oncoming traffic, hitting their bus. The driver was far more than distracted, though, he was actually under the influence of synthetic cannabinoids or K2 Spice as it is commonly known.
The driver, Russell Staley, 53, has since been charged with four counts of first-degree manslaughter for causing the deaths of Meagan Richardson, Katelynn Woodlee, Jaiden Pelton and Brooke Deckard. He will face a Murray County, Oklahoma court in February for a preliminary hearing will be conducted to determine his fate.
Synthetic Drug Testing Challenges
Staley was a frequent users of synthetic drugs, according to authorities. His prior drug use coupled with the discovery of a small pipe that contained synthetic marijuana reside prompted the National Transportation Safety Board(NTSB) to conduct an investigation to root out the cause of the accident.
The findings of the investigation proved to be damning for Staley, too. “The truck driver’s use of synthetic cannabinoids (SC) was identified as a safety issue based on his toxicology results, his lack of corrective action as he departed the roadway and his history of drug use,” read the report from the NTSB.
Testing for synthetic drugs can be difficult, especially when the substance in question is K2 since manufacturers are prone to changing its chemical composition as a way to stay one step ahead of bans placed on specific ingredients.
This revolving door of strains means “testing is extremely difficult and complex,” according to Dr. Nick Webster, medical officer of the NTSB. “Science does not know how long the substance remains in the blood or what it breaks down to.” This is something the board hopes to rectify with a new plan after more research is conducted to asses the frequency of synthetic drug use among drivers of commercial vehicles.
The NTSB is hoping to learn something from this tragic loss of life and through the subsequent investigation into the crash. Investigators were able to determine that none of the passengers on the bus were wearing seat belts, which unfortunately resulted in the severity of the injuries sustained by the surviving passengers and contributed to the deaths of four students. This evidence has prompted the NTSB to recommend that a mandatory seat belt law be implemented. Additional recommendations were also made to modify the roofs, windows and sidewalls of medium sized passenger buses with stronger, more impact resistant materials.