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Judge Rules Drinking, Operating Motorized Wheelchair is Illegal

June 25, 1992

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) _ A person who operates a motorized wheelchair while drunk can be charged with driving under the influence, a judge ruled Thursday in a case involving a man missing both legs.

But James I. Jaggers avoided jail for his wheelchair drunken-driving arrest when Judge Joann Spinks Coleman agreed to a pretrial program under which the charge could be dropped after a year.

The prosecutor said he agreed to the deal because he felt sorry for Jaggers, who had driven his wheelchair into the roadway because a sidewalk had been blocked. Warren County Attorney Mike Caudill also acknowledged it would have been difficult to convict Jaggers, whose legs were amputated about 20 years ago.

″I really don’t think I would have had much of a chance when this guy went in front of a jury,″ he said.

Jaggers, for his part, wasn’t pleased.

″They try to say it’s a good deal. I don’t see what’s so good about it because I wasn’t drunk,″ he said. ″I hadn’t had more than 2 1/2 beers.″

Jaggers said he had been to a bar March 23, then later in the evening he stopped at a pharmacy to buy medicine.

″When I came out of there the police was sitting there waiting on me. Somebody had set this up,″ he said.

Caudill said he had to prosecute the case to uphold Kentucky’s 1991 drunken-driving law and force the Legislature to consider modifying it for similar situations.

″I looked at the facts of this case and felt sorry for this guy,″ Caudill said. ″Here he is in the middle of the night, where he has to get from one place to another, the sidewalk outside this place was torn up and he couldn’t get over that and he had no choice but to go onto a public road.″

But Caudill said that if state courts can rule Kentucky DUI laws apply to operating slow-moving farm tractors while intoxicated, then the laws certainly apply to Jaggers’ wheelchair, which can reach a speed of 6 mph.

″I felt I had to get a ruling that this was a motor vehicle, and I think Judge Coleman made the proper ruling,″ Caudill said. ″Now I think it’s something the General Assembly will have to consider all because of this case.″

Under the law, first-time offenders can be jailed 30 days and fined $500. The DUI charge against Jaggers would be dropped after a year if he doesn’t drink and operate his wheelchair, the judge said.

Although he can drive, Jaggers said he uses his wheelchair to travel all over town, noting that it can travel 25 miles on one battery charge.

Jaggers lost both legs from midthigh down after a gunshot wound impaired blood circulation to his legs. He lived next door to a tavern and was shot as he was entering his house.

Caudill said prosecuting Jaggers would have been difficult, not only because of sympathy toward him, but because authorities were unable to obtain breath or blood alcohol samples proving he was intoxicated.

″He had emphysema so bad he couldn’t blow hard enough for the Breathalyzer to work. And for some reason they couldn’t get any blood out of him out at the hospital,″ Caudill said.

″You can imagine what I thought when they told me there was a DUI case in a wheelchair who they couldn’t get any breath or blood out of,″ he said.

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