OKLAHOMA CITY - As Donna Rush's body was being delivered to the state medical examiner's office, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol was releasing Arthur Straehla to a family member and being driven home, despite a trooper writing in a warrant for a blood draw hours after the fatal wreck that killed Rush that the Edmond man was believed to be under the extreme influence of alcohol.
Now, an OHP official says a "miscommunication" between troopers is the reason Straehla wasn't jailed on suspicion of DUI the night of the crash.
Rush, 65, of El Reno was killed shortly before 11:00 p.m. on May 1 after her car was struck from behind on the Kilpatrick Turnpike near Council Rd. by a Porsche, driven by the 34-year-old Straehla, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Straehla, according to court records, "...struck the rear of (Rush's) vehicle in excess of 140 miles per hour."
The day after Rush's death, her family frustrated and wondering why Straehla wasn't taken to jail.
"I am disappointed," said Effie Babcock, Rush's daughter, on May 2. "I'm disappointed. It angers me because if he was treated and released, why wasn't he arrested?"
On Tuesday, an OHP spokesperson told News 4, "Given the limited information the trooper had at the scene, he did not have enough probable cause to make an immediate arrest at that time."
But Straehla was arrested, at least initially, according to the blood draw warrant signed by an Oklahoma County judge on May 2, hours after the crash. According to the search warrant affidavit, Lt. Mark Reynolds marked in boxes of Straehla's condition to be under the effects of alcohol, to an extreme degree, having a strong alcohol odor, soiled his clothes, an indifferent attitude, extremely slurred speech, watery eyes, falling, staggering and sluggish.
During contact with Straehla, Reynolds wrote Straehla's statement of "No, Lawyer," as further evidence of him being under the influence of alcohol, and placed him under arrest for investigation DUI. But Straehla was later released to a family member. A warrant for his arrest for first degree manslaughter, DUI and reckless driving was filed on May 4 and arrested May 7.
For more than a week, News 4 wanted to know why Straehla wasn't jailed the night of the crash, despite there appearing to be enough probable cause for an arrest. Wednesday, an OHP official admitted Straehla "absolutely" should have gone to jail the night of the crash for "driving under the influence of alcohol, at a minimum," but didn't.
"So was there a mistake made?" News 4's Bill Miston asked of Capt. Ronnie Hampton, who leads the OHP's Traffic-Homicide Unit.
"There was no communication between the two troopers," said Hampton, referring to a lack of communication, or miscommunication, between the trooper in charge of the crash scene and the troopers who later left the scene, taking Straehla to the hospital and involved in getting a search warrant for his blood.
"Why was that not happening?"
"The only reason I can say that that didn’t happen is because the first arriving trooper was trying to maintain the scene, that was very, very long," said Hampton. "About two-tenths of a mile long. And trying to find out who the deceased person was so we could try to get staged up to make a next of kin notification, while these troopers were at the hospital, with Straehla. Their focus was on getting the search warrant for the blood, which took some time. Just because it's not always easy to find someone at 1:00 a.m. to sign your warrant."
Despite the "miscommunication," proper fatal crash protocols were followed and fatality investigators were notified, Hampton said, but did not respond to the scene as "troopers were already doing" the functions required of marking, photographing and obtaining search warrants for the involved vehicles. However, going forward, Hampton says because of this incident, fatality investigators will now be called to every crash scene involving a fatality.