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Fatal Capo Beach Crash: Alcohol in Driver's Blood 4 Times the Legal Limit

Facebook screenshot of John Knowles Jr. of Capistrano Beach, who died in a crash on Coast Highway last October.
Facebook screenshot of John Knowles Jr. of Capistrano Beach, who died in a crash on Coast Highway last October.
The driver believed to have attempted to pass a student driver on Pacific Coast Highway last October before killing himself and his passenger in a fatal crash had a blood-alcohol level of .35, authorities said Friday.

John Knowles Jr., 43 at the time of the fatal crash, was driving with a blood-alcohol average more than four times the legal limit to drive in California, Orange County Sheriff's Department Lt. Jeff Hallock said.

His passenger, Kerensa Donselman of Capistrano Beach, had a blood-alcohol level of .20, the lieutenant said. No criminal charges will be pursued as both died, he said.

The four-vehicle crash along a narrow two-lane stretch of highway sent three others to the hospital: a 49-year-old man and 50-year-old woman in a van, as well as a 53-year-old woman inside a Honda.

The 15-year-old student driver Knowles attempted to pass was treated at the scene of the accident and the driving instructor was unharmed.

The Volkswagen Jetta Knowles was driving split in two from the force of the crash, witnesses said.

The Orange County Register reports Knowles pleaded guilty in Texas to driving while intoxicated in 1996.

A .35 blood-alcohol level is considered life-threatening, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Symptoms of that level of drunkenness include "loss of consciousness, danger of life-threatening alcohol poisoning and significant risk of death in most drinkers due to suppression of vital life functions," according to the NIAAA.

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Douglas Martin January 11, 2014 at 03:16 PM
A person cannot drink enough alcohol to reach a level of .35 without gradually working up to it. A non-drinker would vomit and/or pass out long before they reached even half that level. Mr. Knowels was obviously a chronic drinker. What would have been life threatening to him (other than trauma) would have been to suddenly stop drinking. Delirium tremens has a 50% fatality rate. Please pardon my political statement here, but #1: People who have 3 beers and get pulled over will blow above the legal limit of .08%; four beers and it goes up to .12 or so. These are NOT the people who stumble and slur their words, or show a blatant disregard for everyone by attempting to blindly pass on a curve on a two-lane highway. But tragedies like this one are used to justify the wholesale transfer of money from working folks, to the judicial industry.
Maura Mikulec January 11, 2014 at 05:37 PM
I'm curious about your assertion. Isn't the legal limit what it is because it's "proven" that at that BAC level one's reaction time is affected, one's reflexes are slowed, and one's judgement is impaired? Do you believe that to not be factual, science based? Respectfully.
Douglas Martin January 12, 2014 at 12:34 PM
In the ancient past, police officers were required to prove that a person's ability to drive safely was impaired as a result of drinking alcohol. "Per se" statutes - that is, the measuring of blood alcohol and assigning an arbitrary "dividing line" of 0.08% - make actual impairment irrelevant with regard to criminal liability. The vast majority of traffic fatalities are caused by drivers who have NOT been drinking. In fatalities where alcohol is involved, the overwhelming majority had a BAC higher than 0.15%. Completely sober drivers cause many, many more traffic accidents than drivers with a BAC between 0.08% and 0.15%. Another point to consider is that there are physiological differences between men and women, and these differences affect the level of impairment from alcohol. A female will exhibit more impairment than a male at the same percentage of blood alcohol content. And to finally answer your question, Ms. Mikulec, yes it has been proven that a person is "impaired" after consuming ANY amount of alcohol, once it reaches the brain. But society appears willing to accept some level of impairment as evidenced by different legal limits for different activities. Boating is .04%. Truck driving is zero tolerance. Assigning 0.08% as a "legal" limit for driving, rather than basing the threshold on actual impairment, causes MANY people to be punished unfairly (no, I have never been one, in case you're wondering). But 0.08% increases cash flow for municipalities, and assigning criminality to an arbitrary BAC has been ruled to be Constitutional many times, it appears that we are stuck with it. The best level would be 0.0%.
Maura Mikulec January 12, 2014 at 03:16 PM
Thank you for your reply. It is very informative. I appreciate you taking the time to share.
dan maroney January 18, 2014 at 07:07 AM
one day I had 22 whiskey sours at the red fox lounge because someone dared me ,I wound up falling down a flight of concrete steps,not my best memory of san clemente,the sad part is that someone lost in addiction cant see,admit and accept the truth ,some get saved and some meet this fate,to bad innocent people get hurt,i think the penalties have to be much stiffer for repeat drunken drivers,upon a second arrest or incident I think a person should be put into a mental hospital until they are deemed sane because they are insane and that's what the courts are missing,alcoholism -addiction has a strong mental illness component ,my name is dan maroney and i'm sorry for the drinking I did out there,im seven years sober now,maron148@aol.com,camp horno,i remember the el camino real as a beautiful site,
GreenInOC January 21, 2014 at 10:54 PM
@dan maroney, I agree but I think the penalty should be jail for the first offense. If people know that we as a community are not going to be lenient at all, then perhaps they will make more conscious decision to make arrangements in advance and it will penetrate more. I do appreciate your courage by publicly admitting to and apologizing for your past behavior.
patricia alkawadri February 02, 2014 at 01:17 AM
That guy had no business at all operating a motor vehicle which resulted in this 4 car collision that killed his passenger and himself. He was under no condition at all and was foolish enough to drive. His passenger was also intoxicated. Anyway, I'm glad that the people in the 3 other vehicles have survived.

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