Federal court order needed to search clinic records
March 6, 2013
The state police are working to get a federal court order to view records from a Cranberry Township methadone clinic that treated a man just hours before his vehicle crossed the center line on Route 68 last month and killed another man. State police had obtained a search warrant, but the company that operates the clinic, Discovery House, told troopers that they would need a federal court order, not just local or federal search warrants to get clinic records. That clinic provided methadone, a drug used to treat heroin addicts, to 25-year-old Justin Enslen on Feb. 18. Enslen caused a fatal head-on collision on Route 68 on his way home from the clinic that day and has been charged with homicide by vehicle. Lt. Eric Hermick of the Butler state police barracks said investigators are attempting to get records for Enslen to determine what the clinic knew and whether any policies were violated. State police plan a review of the records, policies and employees at the methadone clinic. He said previously that he is not sure what charges, if any, could be brought against the clinic. Since Discovery House in Cranberry is a federally-funded facility, that elevates its protections, said Hermick. “You can’t go to a DJ (district judge), and apparently you can’t go to a county judge. So, we’re going through the DEA and requesting the court order,” said Hermick, who added the hearing would probably take place in Pittsburgh. A state police drug recognition specialist has asserted that Enslen was impaired by a “narcotic analgesic” at the time of the crash. Driving a Dodge Ram pickup truck on Route 68, Enslen swerved into the lane of opposing traffic in front of the Connoquenessing Elementary School. The truck crashed head on with a Nissan Frontier driven by Mark Bishop, 52, of Oakland Township. Bishop died in the crash. His sister, Holly Merkner, 41, of Lyndora, a passenger in the Frontier, was injured. Enslen was taken to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh where he reportedly told an investigator he’d been driving home from a regular visit to a methadone clinic in Cranberry. Court records say a state trooper trained to recognize people who are under the influence of drugs evaluated Enslen at the hospital, and determined that he was impaired. In addition to the homicide charge, Enslen is charged with accidents involving death while not properly licensed, two counts of driving under the influence of a controlled substance, driving while operating privilege is suspended or revoked, driving on the wrong side of the road, careless driving, reckless driving and a seat belt violation. He was driving a pickup truck that belonged to his brother, Jeremy Enslen, at the time of the crash. State Police are looking into why he was driving the vehicle. The unexpected twist of seeking court permission for records hasn’t really slowed down the investigation. The state police have more than enough evidence in the case, but they have to look into whether there is any evidence of criminal culpability of the facility, said Hermick. “We’ve had issues here since 2006 with pulling over drivers that are on methadone,” said Lt. Hermick. The state has laws on methadone use and driving. Hermick said the state has set up a Methadone Death and Serious Incident Review Team through the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. It is reviewing methadone-related accidents and deaths to prevent them. Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Corbett, said last week the state is forming a team to investigate methadone accidents. She said reforms might be coming soon in terms of the way the state handles similar accidents. “Right now there aren’t any laws specific to methadone use and driving, so that’s where the state’s role comes in, in terms of preventing future incidents,” said Cronkright.