Troopers expect more opioid-related crashes after suspected high driver hits school bus

Driver who hit Orlando school bus had syringe in hand, troopers say

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

A school bus was involved in a crash Nov. 6, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. - When Todd Massengale barreled into an empty school bus Monday afternoon on Sand Lake Road in Orlando, he was high, Florida Highway Patrol troopers said.

"Drug paraphernalia was found in the vehicle, drugs in the vehicle, a needle was still in the suspect's hand, according to the deputy," FHP Sgt. Kim Montes said. "Fire rescue did administer Narcan because he appeared to be suffering from an opioid overdose."

Narcan is used to stop an opioid overdose in its tracks. More and more first responders carry the spray as the nation faces the worst drug-overdose epidemic it's ever seen.

Troopers said they tested the white powdery substance and the test came back positive for opioids.

"We actually think, according to witnesses, he was passed out as he struck the bus," Montes said.

Montes is worried that opiod-related crashes will rise as a result of the exploding opioid epidemic.

"We've already seen the parents, mothers, passed out with kids in the back. They were driving," Montes said. "People drive every day, even those people who are addicted. So we do expect this to trend upwards based on the amount of overdoses in the community."

Montes said these crashes will be more dangerous because when a person overdoses they are completely unconscious.

The school bus crash Monday was at least the third recent wreck in Central Florida that News 6 has reported where the driver has been suspected of driving under the influence of drugs.

In August, a driver smashed into 17 parked cars at an Orlando apartment complex while he was trying to park, according to police.

But officials say there is no easy way to tell how many traffic crashes statewide are opioid-related. 

Troopers said when they fill out an accident report for a driver suspected of driving under the influence, the only boxes on the report that can be checked are either for "alcohol" or "drugs."

That means searching crash data won't yield anything more specific than alcohol or drugs.

Troopers do include their observations, if there are drugs in a car and obvious visual impairment, and often update the narrative once blood and urine test results are returned. The narrative, however, is not a searchable database.

Montes said the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles provides the standardized police report to law enforcement across the state and can make changes to the report template with legislative approval.

Former trooper and News 6 traffic safety expert Steve Montiero said simply adding a check box for "opioids" would allow the state to keep statistics on opioid-related crashes.

"If law enforcement officers statewide went to a crash program to where we could all go in and show this, I think there would be some hard data to show," said Montiero. "Look, we have an opioid issue of driving."

A spokesperson with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles told News 6 that an additional check box for documenting opiates is on department officials' radar and they are looking into it.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last year alone, there were an estimated 64,000 fatal drug overdoses, most of them from opioids. And for each fatal overdose, there are approximately 30 nonfatal overdoses -- many of the cases appearing in emergency rooms across the country.

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