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Published: Thursday, February 11, 2010, 12:01 a.m.

Official on duty flunked DUI test

The investigator for the medical examiner was fired after reportedly driving to a fatal crash site while drunk.

EVERETT — An investigator from the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office failed a field sobriety test the night he was called to help recover the bodies of four people killed in a car crash Thanksgiving weekend.
Arleigh Marquis, 48, was fired for driving a county vehicle while drunk and also violating several county rules, according to documents The Herald obtained under the state’s public records laws.
Al Noriega, the chief medical investigator in the coroner’s office, determined that Marquis violated several workplace rules and should be terminated.
Marquis should have been well aware of the risks of driving drunk, Noriega said.
“You have seen these consequences on a regular basis when performing death investigations of traffic fatalities caused by intoxicated drivers,” Noriega wrote in a Dec. 15 memo firing Marquis. “Despite this knowledge, you chose to drive a county vehicle to the worst drunken driving traffic fatality this county has had in many years.”
A Snohomish man, Matthew McDonald, pleaded guilty on Jan. 27 to four counts of vehicular homicide for causing the deaths of Brad and Melissa Agerup and Thomas and Hilda Woods.
When Marquis arrived at the crash scene on Nov. 29, Washington State Patrol troopers said his breath smelled of alcohol and they immediately suspected he was drunk.
A trooper confronted Marquis. He was unable to complete a number of tests police use to gauge sobriety. Marquis blood alcohol level tested at .08 on a portable breathalyzer, police said. A person is considered intoxicated at or above that level.
Portable breath tests generally are not admissible as evidence. That’s why police bring drunken driving suspects to a police station to test them on certified breathalyzers that produce results that can be used as evidence.
Marquis was arrested for investigation of drunken driving and another medical examiner investigator was called help at the fatal crash.
At 9:20 p.m., more than an hour after Marquis arrived at the crash scene, his blood alcohol level was found to be .065 — not legally drunk. Still, troopers believed the time elapsed demonstrated that Marquis likely was drunk when he drove to the fatal crash on Highway 9.
Marquis said he had been drinking until 2 a.m. the day he was arrested but wasn’t drinking on the job. He checked into to work just before 4 p.m., was called to the fatal crash at 7:13 p.m., and arrived at the crash at 8:10 p.m., records show. By 8:35 p.m., he was failing breath tests.
Snohomish County prosecutors closed the drunken-driving case without filing charges, citing insufficient evidence.
Prosecutors have to prove that a person’s ability to drive was affected or that they were over the legal limit of .08 while driving, deputy prosecutor Joan Cavagnaro said. They did not have that evidence in the Marquis case.
Marquis was not given any kind of special treatment, she said. “It’s not who you are, it’s what you did and what evidence we have to prove it,” Cavagnaro said.
Marquis apologized to his colleagues and volunteered to enter treatment during the county’s investigation into his behavior, records show.
Noriega noted Marquis had a history of workplace problems. Records from 2003 say he was rude and disrespectful, earning a two-day suspension.
There was no indication that Marquis had a history of alcohol-related problems. After Marquis’ arrest, county medical examiner Norman Thiersch ordered his staff to review the county’s drug-free workplace policy.
Christopher Schwarzen said all county employees are made aware of the policy and any county worker who drives a commercial vehicle is subject to random drug screening.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy. It’s that simple,” he said. “They break this policy, they’re terminated.”

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437, jholtz@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » Medical ExaminerDUI

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