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Experts disagree on whether drug played part in fatal 2014 Hamilton Township crash

Experts testifying at a vehicular trial disagreed on whether the drug in a driver’s system would likely have contributed to a 2014 fatal crash.
Nicholas Garreffi, 42, allegedly had the equivalent of 2.4 to 3.4 milligrams of alprazolam — commonly known as Xanax — in his system when he crossed the center line on Rout 40 in Hamilton Township, sideswiped a box truck and then struck a car with five teenage girls inside, according to a blood test taken about 90 minutes after the Aug. 30, 2014 crash.
Four of the girls in the car he struck were injured. Aisling Cooke, 14, died of her injuries four days later.
Garreffi is charged with one count of vehicular homicide and three counts of assault by auto.
Assistant Prosecutor Rick McKelvey rested the state’s case Wednesday with hours of testimony from Dr. John Brick, who talked about the effects of drugs like alprazolam, which can cause users to have issues when driving, such as going out of their lane.
In an interview Brick had with Garreffi, the driver said he often would look around his truck while on the road for his work as a contractor. Garreffi said he was trying to find a client’s number to let them know he would be late because he was going to another job first.
It was a normal diversion that happens on the road every day, the defense has argued. It’s a tragedy, but not a crime
The circumstances of the crash do not prove it was the drug, testified Dr. Gary Glass, a forensic psychologist who has worked with law enforcement for two decades.
But Brick said that, when under the influence of the drug, you do something like take your eyes off the road for longer than normal.
“That is divided-attention failure,” Brick said.
Glass talked about the good effects of alprazolam, and said that the amount of the drug in Garreffi’s system, which measured 35 ng/ml, was within the therapeutic levels of 10 to 50.
The drug is in the class of pharmacology that changes behavior, Brick said.
But Garreffi’s behavior was not changed, testified Robert Hamilton, a firefighter and EMT who responded to the crash.
He said he is a longtime friend of Garreffi’s father — retired Hamilton Township Police Capt. Anthony Garreffi and has known the defendant since he was small, and saw no differences in how he acted.
Under cross-examination, Hamilton admitted he didn’t give Garreffi a full examination and only was checking for injury, not intoxication.
AtlantiCare Regional Medical Director Edward Fog, the emergency room doctor on the night of the crash, put in his report that Garreffi “shows no signs of cognitive deficit.”
The report also said that Garreffi refused a full examination.
Fog said he likely was in with Garreffi for less than 10 minutes. Maybe less than five.
That’s when McKelvey had him read the transcript of his interaction with the patient, timing it with his watch.
It was 65 seconds.
The defense is expected to rest Thursday, when the defense will reveal whether Garreffi will testify. If he doesn’t, the judge will read a statement to the jurors explaining how they are not to make any judgments on his guilt or innocence based upon that decision.
On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge John Rauh suggested the jury come in Friday, normally a day off for trials. They will give him their decision Thursday.

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