B.J. Whitlatch had meth and speed in his system when he crashed his pickup into an ambulance two months ago, killing himself and the ambulance driver, Cass County Attorney Nathan Cox said Wednesday.
But the level of drugs in his body was “very low” and wouldn’t have affected the 24-year-old’s driving alone, Cox said.
He noted that methamphetamine users can stay up for days until their bodies shut down to sleep but said there’s no way to test and prove that’s what happened to Whitlatch.
The rural Syracuse man was driving east on U.S. 34 at about 10:20 p.m. June 11 when his 2002 Ford Ranger drifted into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a Weeping Water Rescue ambulance that was taking a patient to a Lincoln hospital, according to the Cass County Sheriff’s Office.
Whitlatch died at the scene. The driver of the ambulance, Robert “Bob” Hanes Sr., 51, was taken by helicopter to Bryan West Campus, where he died.
Investigators determined Whitlatch caused the crash, Cox said.
Whitlatch’s family members have said he was tired after working a 10-hour shift and spending hours looking for a battery because his truck wouldn’t start.
Dustin Garrison, a lawyer representing Whitlatch’s mother, Deanna, said last month he talked with several witnesses who contradicted the county attorney’s finding.
“We’re trying to conduct our own investigation because we don’t believe the investigation has been conducted very well,” Garrison said then.
Deanna Whitlatch sued the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and the Nebraska State Patrol last month, saying deputies bungled the investigation by focusing on Whitlatch and not considering other explanations.
“They made so many assumptions from the outset, it precluded them from doing a thorough investigation from the very beginning,” Garrison said after filing the lawsuit for Whitlatch.
He declined to comment on the new information from Cox on Wednesday.
Hanes’ family couldn’t be reached.
The lawsuit, which still is working its way through Cass County District Court, seeks access to all law enforcement records, including toxicology, related to the investigation.
Deputies focused on Whitlatch because a eyewitness said she saw him driving erratically and her account led them to think he caused the accident, Cox said in July.
As she followed Whitlatch, the woman who called 911 told dispatchers she watched him drive for miles, weaving from shoulder to shoulder while speeding up and slowing down. She said he nearly hit several cars before crashing into the ambulance.
Initial blood tests detected no alcohol or drugs in Whitlatch, so forensic toxicologists tried again and lowered the detection thresholds.
Investigators had tested Hanes’ blood only for alcohol and found none.
They found no evidence Whitlatch suffered a medical emergency or was using his cellphone before the crash, Cox said.