Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth
THE 97TH DISTRICT COURT OF MONTAGUE COUNTY TRIAL COURT NOS.
2015-0255M-CR, 2015-0256M-CR, 2015-0257M-CR
WALKER and MEIER, JJ., and KERRY FITZGERALD (Senior Justice,
Retired, Sitting by Assignment).
MEIER BILL MEIER JUSTICE.
State appeals from the trial court's order granting
appellee Terri Sanders's motion to suppress. The State
contends that the trial court erred by concluding that
exigent circumstances did not exist at the time the arresting
officer in this case ordered a warrantless blood draw of
Sanders's blood and that thus the trial court erred by
granting the suppression motion. Because we conclude that
under the totality of the circumstances the State failed to
carry its burden that exigent circumstances existed at the
time the arresting officer ordered Sanders's blood be
drawn, we will affirm.
was travelling on the wrong side of the road on the night of
October 23, 2015, when she struck another vehicle head-on.
The collision resulted in the deaths of two individuals and
serious injury to another. The State charged Sanders with two
counts of intoxication manslaughter and one count of
intoxication assault. Later, Sanders filed a motion to
suppress the results of a warrantless and involuntary blood
draw that occurred after she was transported to the hospital
from the accident scene.
Trooper Rachel Russell testified at the suppression hearing.
According to Russell, around 11:45 p.m. on October 23, 2015,
she received a dispatch regarding a two-vehicle, head-on
collision. Russell said that as she was en route, she learned
that the accident involved fatalities. By Russell's
account, it took her approximately twenty minutes to arrive
at the scene of the accident- specifically, she averred that
she arrived at 12:07 a.m. on October 24, 2015.
recalled that when she arrived, a great number of emergency
responders were already at the scene of the accident. She
said that she thought "everybody else in the county was
there before [she] was." Russell detailed that
"[t]he fire departments, the first responders, two
deputies, the game warden, [and] multiple emergency vehicles
[were] parked everywhere" when she arrived. In the video
from her dashcam, which was admitted at the suppression
hearing, Russell can be heard stating, "Of course, every
Tom, Dick, and Harry [inaudible] got to be here" as her
patrol vehicle approached the accident scene. By
Russell's recollection, the accident scene was under
control when she arrived and some of the officers and
emergency personnel on scene were not doing "a whole lot
at that time."
said that her responsibility was to investigate the accident.
Russell averred that shortly after her arrival, she made
contact with Sanders. Russell said that Sanders had "a
little bit of blood on her face" but that Sanders
reported that "she felt okay." Russell averred that
she later learned that Sanders had suffered broken bones in
the accident. Russell said that upon contacting Sanders, she
detected an odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from Sanders
and that she had slurred speech and red, bloodshot eyes.
to Russell, State Trooper Brandon Neff also arrived on scene
shortly after she did. Russell said that she instructed Neff
to perform field sobriety tests on Sanders and "if need
be, to get a specimen from her." Russell said that after
assigning Neff to determine Sanders's level of
intoxication, she turned her focus to gathering more
information about the accident and the fatalities involved.
By Russell's account, Sanders was transported from the
scene in an ambulance around 12:30 a.m., and Russell said
Neff followed the ambulance to the hospital. Russell averred
that it would have taken the ambulance "[f]ive
minutes" to reach the hospital from the accident scene,
but she also said that her notes showed that Sanders arrived
at the hospital at 1:00 a.m.
averred that while she was investigating, a justice of the
peace arrived on the scene. By Russell's account, this
happened after Sanders had been taken away. Russell said that
she did not discuss drawing Sanders's blood with the
judge and that the judge was there to pronounce the death of
the two decedents. She said that the judge pronounced the two
deceased at 12:40 a.m. Regarding why she did not seek a
warrant for Sanders's blood, Russell averred that she did
not have the time nor the opportunity to seek obtaining a
search warrant because she was investigating the scene.
Furthermore, Russell averred that the decision to seek a
warrant would have been "Trooper Neff's
said that Deputy Lee Phariss and the game warden, who were on
the scene, were assisting her in "painting the
scene" and filling out "a major crash packet."
But in all, Russell averred that seven peace officers,
including herself, were at the scene of the accident-one of
them was Phariss. And even though Russell averred that no one
accompanied Neff to the hospital, Russell can be heard on the
video from Neff's dashcam stating that she was
"sending Lee up there" to the hospital with Neff in
case Sanders's boyfriend "g[a]ve [Neff] any
problems." Russell also said that there were fourteen
firefighters at the accident scene. Video from Russell's
dashcam shows that the entire scene had been cleared and that
most of the emergency personnel who had responded, as well as
their emergency vehicles, had left the scene within two hours
of Russell's arrival.
Neff testified at the hearing as well. Neff averred that
because Russell was the lead investigating officer at the
time he arrived on the scene, he was there to assist Russell.
Neff said that his assistance revolved around speaking with
Sanders and that he did not have any accident scene duties.
By Neff's account, Sanders appeared confused and did not
"have much recollection of the crash." Neff said
that even though he had already been advised by Russell to
perform field sobriety tests on Sanders, he too suspected she
was intoxicated through his own observations because he could
smell an odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from Sanders.
He also averred that Sanders had "glassy, blood-shot
eyes" and slurred speech. Sanders also told Neff that
she had consumed alcoholic beverages earlier in the day.
said that he asked Sanders whether she was injured, that
Sanders replied she was not, and that Sanders had refused
medical attention. Neff also said that he did not detect any
injuries to Sanders and that he did not know until later that
she had suffered a broken ankle.
to Neff, Sanders was not steady on her feet and leaned on
multiple vehicles as he asked her to walk over to a patrol
vehicle, where he intended to initiate field sobriety tests.
Neff said that Sanders was "very compliant" and
that after he explained to her the tests and then began to
conduct the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, Sanders's
boyfriend "stopped [Neff] and told [him] that he wanted
her to be reevaluated again by the medics." Neff said
that he believed that Sanders's boyfriend stopped the
tests to prevent them from being conducted and not out of a
concern for Sanders's well-being.
submitted from Neff's dashcam shows that medical
personnel took several minutes from that time to strap
Sanders to a stretcher and then lift her onto a gurney and
into an ambulance. Also from the video, while medical
personnel attended to Sanders, a conversation can be seen and
heard between Neff and Russell. In that conversation, Russell
can be heard telling Neff that she would be sending
"Lee" with him to the hospital in case
Sanders's boyfriend gave Neff any "problems."
And Neff can be heard stating, "But we're going to
take her blood anyway, so it doesn't matter."
said that it only took five minutes for the ambulance to
transport Sanders to the nearby hospital and that he followed
the ambulance in his patrol vehicle. Neff said that upon
arriving, because he believed that the boyfriend was
attempting to interfere with his investigation, he spoke with
Sanders's boyfriend outside the hospital. Neff said that
the boyfriend became "very compliant at that time and
said that he would let ...