Former chief deputy coroner dozed off during DUI arrest, court documents allege — (Lewis County Sirens)

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Lewis County Sirens

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

By Sharyn  L. Decker, Lewis County Sirens news reporter

CHEHALIS – Lewis County’s now-former chief deputy coroner fell asleep repeatedly during her contact with a state trooper this summer when she was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of depressants, according to charging documents.

Carmen Brunton’s arraignment is set for Tuesday in Lewis County District Court. She was charged Nov. 12 after the results of blood tests came back.

Brunton was let go from her job after the July traffic stop on Interstate 5 south of Chehalis; it was just before 8 a.m. on her way to work.

The Winlock resident told a sheriff’s deputy she was on numerous prescription medications and had taken Oxycodone about an hour earlier, according to charging documents. Oxycodone is a synthetic narcotic prescribed for pain.

Brunton, 56, was the coroner’s office only full time employee and was responsible for its day to day operations. She had been a county employee since 1993.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Charging documents give a similar account to a Lewis County Sheriff’s Office incident report, which was available soon after Brunton’s arrest.

Deputy Jason Mauermann wrote that he responded to a citizen report in Napavine that a Black Expedition was “all over the road” and had pulled into the Chevron station on Rush Road. He followed it onto Interstate 5 where he described the vehicle as repeatedly drifting between lanes.

When he contacted Brunton near the Labree Road interchange, the deputy wrote, she had very slow speech and heavy, sleepy eyes but he didn’t detect any odor of liquor. When asked, she said she was on numerous prescription medications, including muscle relaxers, heart pills and pain medication, according to Mauermann.

Upon further questioning, she told him she had taken Oxycodone for pain that morning, but not a muscle relaxer, according to Mauermann’s report.

Deputies requested a trooper take over the investigation to avoid a conflict because they worked closely with her.

Charging documents say Trooper Weaver responded and conducted an evaluation, noting Brunton also had slurred speech and was unsteady when she

“Weaver observed that Brunton was lethargic and drowsy and fell asleep multiple times during his contact with her,” charging documents state.

Weaver, a drug recognition expert, concluded she was under the influence of a central nervous system depressant.

Brunton was put on administrative leave that day, July 15. Her boss, elected Coroner Terry Wilson, said her leave ended and she wouldn’t be returning on Aug. 3, the same day a front page news story was published about the arrest.

Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Sara Beigh said the drugs found with the blood test are Oxycodone, a pain pill; lorazepam which is often used for anxiety; as well as citalopram, amitriptyline and nortiptyline

Beigh said the last three can be used as antidepressants and one of them was a component of one of the others.

There’s no allegation Brunton was taking any medication not legally prescribed to her.

Beigh said she didn’t know if they were all prescribed, but it doesn’t matter.

“What matters is if a drug of some sort has impaired your driving,” Beigh said.

Brunton’s duties for about the previous 12 years included managing the office, assisting in death investigations, arranging autopsies and notifying the next of kin when deaths occur that are under the jurisdiction of the coroner’s office.

Coroner Wilson said in early August he had not seen anything breaking the protocol for safe storage and eventual destruction of the wide variety of medications his office confiscates, something it is required to do by state law.

Last month, however, in a meeting with Lewis County commissioners, the newly appointed chief deputy coroner Dawn Harris described a new policy she said was established last May.

The coroner’s office still collects any medications they find belonging to the deceased individuals they are responsible for, but all narcotics are counted and put into an evidence bag at the scene, which is witnessed by a law enforcement officer, according to Harris.

The coroners office also has put into writing a policy that deputy coroners don’t take possession of weapons at death scenes, Harris said at the same meeting.

Come January, Wilson will end 28 years of his job as elected coroner.

Community college forensics instructor Warren McLeod of Chehalis won the office in this month’s election with 54.5 percent of the vote running against retired DEA agent Micheal Hurley of Mossyrock.