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Jury finds repeat offender guilty of driving under the influence

Daily Inter Lake | November 26, 2021 7:00 AM

A jury found a man caught passed out behind the wheel of a car parked at a gas pump earlier this year guilty of driving under the influence and driving with a suspended or revoke license last week.

Authorities arrested Johnathan James in May after deputies with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office arrived at a Libby gas station for a report of an unconscious man. In an affidavit, Deputy Derek Breiland recounted finding a man slumped over the center console and the vehicle, in park, still running.

Breiland knocked on the window. The man, later identified as James, came to and rolled down the window. Breiland recalled getting greeted with “an overwhelming odor of an alcoholic beverage” coming from James. He also spotted a collection of empty and full nip bottles

In Breiland’s telling, James said he was relaxing at the gas station and denied taking a nap. James estimated he had spent several hours at the store, but employees put his stay at about 30 minutes, according to court documents.

When Breiland asked for a driver’s license he got a state identification issued by California instead. James admitted lacking a driver’s license at the scene. When Breiland ran his information through dispatch, he learned that California had revoked James’ license.

As for why James was in Libby, he told Breiland he worked locally as a mechanic.

James admitted drinking at least several beers in his conversation with the deputy. When Breiland asked about the one-shot nip bottles, James acknowledged drinking those as well, court documents said, but said he last had a drink several hours prior.

Breiland wrote that James showed signs of being intoxicated regardless.

“James’ intoxication was becoming very apparent during our conversation as he could not keep his balance and had very thick, slurred speech,” Breiland wrote.

James failed several field sobriety tests before asking to stop, court documents said. When asked, he provided a breath sample that registered above .300. A second sample recorded his blood alcohol concentration at .278, court document said.

Breiland arrested James and took him to the Lincoln County Detention Center, where he struggled with instructions. When he refused further breath samples, Breiland successfully sought a warrant for a blood draw. James fell asleep while awaiting the procedure at a local medical center.

“This is not normal behavior for someone about to get a blood draw,” Breiland wrote, “and this also adds to the evidence of James’ intoxication.”

He also learned that James had four prior driving under the influence convictions, in 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016, and already was facing a fifth drunk driving charge earned earlier in the month.

James pleaded not guilty to his eventual charges and was represented by Keenan and Liam Gallagher of the Office of the Public Defender. County Attorney Marcia Boris served as prosecutor. A jury of nine men and three women found him guilty.

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 27.