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New Jersey man sentenced for causing fatal accident

When we hear about accidents that involve driving under the influence, most of us tend to assume that a driver had consumed alcohol or illegal drugs before getting behind the wheel. But New Jersey and other states' laws against impaired driving also apply to prescription and even some over-the-counter drugs. When not taken properly, these pharmaceuticals can lead to just as much trouble as the aforementioned substances.

People who take pharmaceuticals have a responsibility to ensure that the medication won't interfere with their ability to drive. They also should avoid taking more than the recommended dosage -- two things a New Jersey man failed to do before he caused a fatal accident in Monmouth County in May 2008. He was sentenced this week to 41 months in prison for the head-on collision, which killed a school principal who was on his way to work.

Prosecutors said the defendant took four times the recommended dosage of zolpidem, a sleep aid sold under the brand name Ambien. As he drove down a Monmouth County street, he fell asleep and his Ford Explorer crossed the double yellow line. The 58-year-old principal was killed instantly as the SUV collided with his car.

Because the crash took place just outside the gates of Fort Monmouth, the case fell under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The impaired driver pleaded guilty before a U.S. District Court judge to one count of involuntary manslaughter.

The defendant acknowledged upon pleading guilty that he consciously disregarded the risks of taking sleeping pills right before driving. Just as drivers know that consuming too much alcohol is against the law and can lead to accidents, the man who caused this crash knew that taking a powerful dose of a drug designed to induce sleep posed dangerous risks. If he had considered those risks more carefully, he could have avoided taking the life of an innocent person.

Source: Justice.gov, "Monmouth County, N.J., Man Sentenced To 41 Months In Prison For Involuntary Manslaughter In Death of School Principal," Dec. 18, 2012

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