TBI lab error in Chattanooga vehicular homicide case calls into question other results

TBI lab error in Chattanooga vehicular homicide case calls into question other results

October 23rd, 2013 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

Document: Letter From District Attorney Bill Cox

Letter from District Attorney Bill Cox about a TBI blood alcohol test error.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is reviewing 3,800 lab test results from various criminal cases after a vehicular homicide case in Chattanooga was dismissed due to a lab error.

TBI has suspended Special Agent Kyle Bayer, who worked as a forensic scientist. An internal investigation is under way with TBI submitting all of the cases that Bayer worked on to a private lab for retesting.

"We are currently gathering a cost estimation. There is no indication that other errors were made. We are doing this to be prudent," said Kristin Helm, spokeswoman for TBI.

Bayer was responsible for testing a blood sample taken from Dale Edward Ferrell after a fatal car crash on March 16. Bayer's results showed there was alcohol in Ferrell's system, resulting in charges for driving under the influence and vehicular homicide.

Jerry Summers, an attorney representing Ferrell, submitted a blood sample to a private lab, Aperian Lab Solutions, which came back with a blood result below the legal limit of 0.08.

"We moved for a motion to get a sample of the blood," said Summers, who said it's standard for more than one vial to be collected. "A lot of times I have used that to confirm the fact that the person was impaired. Sometimes they [TBI] are right on the money. Obviously, there's a big discrepancy between a 0.24 and a 0.001."

A Hamilton County grand jury indicted Ferrell, of Mississippi, in July after Chattanooga police said he struck the rear of a motorcycle while traveling south in the inside lane near mile marker nine on Interstate 75.

The motorcyclist, 59-year-old Edward Bankston, of Knoxville, who worked as an architect, crashed and died at the scene as a result.

Ferrell's charges were dismissed last week after prosecutors were notified by the TBI. They have since had to notify all defense attorneys of potential impact to cases.

The Hamilton County District Attorney's office filed a motion to dismiss the case against Ferrell.

"Our notification to defense counsel is consistent with a prosecutor's ethical duty to disclose exculpatory and potentially exculpatory evidence," said Neal Pinkston, executive assistant district attorney for Hamilton County District Attorney's Office.

As a result, it's possible convictions could be overturned through appeal, Summers said.

Helm said the TBI is also going to retest the sample from Ferrell to "determine if an error was made as the defense claims as part of our internal investigation. We believe it to be an isolated incident."

She said the error resulted because lab protocols were not adhered to.

"We are certain that if established protocol had been followed, an error would not have occurred because of the number of ways blood samples are checked through the course of testing," she said.

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter twitter.com/abburger.