The amount of alcohol police allege was in the system of Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano the night they say he was involved in a car accident that killed two people, including a Marine home on leave, would render most drinkers unable to walk and possibly unconscious, according to experts.
But if the person was a heavy drinker, a 0.32 reading on a breath test - four times the legal limit - would not prevent him or her from functioning, the experts said.
"Generally, for heavy drinkers, you have to multiply the blood alcohol level by two to get the same effect in a heavy drinker as you would in a naive or social drinker," said Richard Stripp, a professor of toxicology and pharmacology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Still, a 0.32 reading for someone at Morales-Soriano's weight, 165 pounds, would require someone to chug two six packs of beer in a row, said Mike Gimbel, director of substance abuse education for the Sheppard Pratt Health System.
"The majority of people would be mostly unconscious" at 0.32, he said.
Police allege that about 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Morales-Soriano, 25, slammed a car he was driving into the rear of a Toyota Corolla stopped at a stoplight at Route 175 and Route 108 in Columbia. The impact knocked the Corolla off the road, fatally injuring its driver, Jennifer Bower, 24, of Montgomery Village and her passenger, Marine Cpl. Brian Mathews, 21, of Columbia.
Mathews, a 2003 Howard High School graduate, and Bower were on their second date.
Morales-Soriano faces multiple drunken driving, negligent homicide and negligent manslaughter charges. If convicted of all of the criminal charges, he could receive a maximum of 36 years in prison and a $30,000 fine, according to charging documents.
Bradley A. Goldbloom, Morales-Soriano's defense attorney, said that although he has not seen the results of his client's breath test, he's "inherently skeptical of the reading," which he and others have said was the highest reading they have ever encountered.
"For my client to actually be functioning - to a level that everything seems to indicate he was - seems unlikely," Goldbloom said.
Goldbloom said his client will plead not guilty.
Documents recently added to Morales-Soriano's court file said his breath test was given within two hours of his arrest. Police performed the two required readings, and the machine was calibrated and returned to zero before and after the readings.
The 0.32 blood alcohol concentration was the lower of Morales-Soriano's two readings. The second concentration was 0.33.
Police statewide rely on the lower of the two breath test results, said Pfc. Jamie Myers of Howard County.
Court records show no evidence of a blood sample being taken from Morales-Soriano, a Mexican native who authorities say is apparently in the country illegally.
"It doesn't appear to me to be anything here that would render this test invalid or inadmissible," said Stephen Freedman, an Owings Mills attorney who said he has handled hundreds of drunken driving cases but is not involved in this one. "In doing research on DUI manuals and reading articles from across the United States, it's very rare that these things are wrong."
However, Freedman said that he couldn't rule out other problems not noted on the test record, which Morales-Soriano signed and dated.
The test given to Morales-Soriano was administered using a desktop machine, called an Intoximeter EC/IR, which is more reliable than a hand-held devices used on roadsides. Prosecutors cannot submit results from hand-held devices at state trials, said Laura Robinson, a Glen Burnie attorney who successfully defended Anne Arundel County Del. Terry R. Gilleland Jr., on drunken-driving charges this year.
Robinson said Morales-Soriano's reading was "exceptionally" high.
Stripp said that experts generally consider a 0.40 blood alcohol concentration potentially fatal, and that there have been cases in which a level in the 0.30 range led to alcohol poisoning and death.
David J. Hanson, an alcohol researcher and a professor emeritus from State University of New York at Potsdam, said that breath tests can be off 15 percent either way. But even with that factored in, the reading that police said Morales-Soriano registered still would have been above the legal limit.
"The defense is going to have quite an uphill battle," he said. "I'm more concerned about cases where the reading is close to the legal limit."
Meanwhile, police released further details yesterday of a previous accident in which Morales-Soriano was charged on July 2 in Riverdale Park in Prince George's County. He was accused of driving the wrong way on a one-way street, speeding and negligent driving.
He was found not guilty at trial when the victims did not show up to be witnesses, said Lt. Patrick Timmons of the Riverdale Park Police Department.
Morales-Soriano had been cited for drunken driving by Howard County police in February, according to court records. The charges were dropped because of "weak evidence," prosecutors said this week.
Miles Long, an employee of Free State Landscape Management in Olney, where Morales-Soriano worked, said his colleague "was a good worker," one of 36 at the landscaping company.
News of the fatal accident upset him, he said.
"I'm pretty sickened," Long said. "It's a damn shame. At least we have a great justice system, and it sounds like they're going to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law."
Efforts to reach the company's owner were unsuccessful.