Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON — Last week Marshall County Attorney Jeff Edwards confirmed the blood alcohol level of Cory Burkeen as .000. Since then, questions have been raised as to when and how the blood sample was obtained.
If he had been drinking on Memorial Day, the time between Cory Burkeen’s last drink and the point where the medical staff at Vanderbilt University Medical Center took his blood could have been sufficient to reduce his blood alcohol content to .000.
According to ForCon Forensic Consulting, a human’s blood alcohol content reduces 10 to 20 percent every hour after consumption ceases.
Jason Darnall, assistant Marshall County Attorney, said Vanderbilt University did not run a toxicology screening on admission. The hospital required an officer from Marshall County be present. Darnall said that was impossible at the time. Darnall did not know when the sample was taken.
Sheriff Kevin Byars also did not know at what point the sample was taken, only that Burkeen was a patient at the hospital.
Burkeen waited about 45 minutes with responders for a medivac helicopter to arrive. Road distance between Calvert City and Nashville is 122 miles, though a straight line distance is much shorter. Bell Helicopter lists the top speed of its Model 206, a common medivac helicopter, at 139 m.p.h.
“It’s certainly possible he could have metabolized any alcohol before the sample was taken, but that would be speculation at this point,” said Darnell.
Byars declined to comment about how his office obtained the sample.
“We have an open investigation,” Byars said. “The rest will come out later.”
Darnall said that without an officer present, the Sheriff’s Department had to obtain a search warrant.
Lt. Brent White of the Kentucky State Police said his agency has protocols to obtain samples. If taken to a Kentucky hospital, a trooper from another post may obtain a sample. If out-of-state, troopers will ask agents of another law enforcement organization to collect samples. If this is impossible or a hospital finds this arrangement unacceptable, troopers can get a search warrant, grand jury subpoena or court order to obtain samples. Suspects may also give voluntary consent for the medical staff to take samples. He added samples should be taken within 2 hours of an incident.
White said hospitals often take samples for toxicology studies to avoid drug interactions in new patients.
Vanderbilt no longer follows this practice. John Howser, assistant vice chancellor for medical center news and communications, said advances in medical treatment have done away with the need for toxicology studies for trauma patients.
“We may draw a blood sample for medical reasons. In these instances the laboratory results go into the patient’s medical record,” Howser said. Blood draws for law enforcement, conducted in accordance with the TN statute, go to TBI laboratory or elsewhere for analysis.”
For in and out-of-state requests for blood or test results, an officer must be present for the blood draw, or an agency must obtain a court order, subpoena or search warrant. An officer must be present to establish the chain of custody for the evidence, seal it and transport it for analysis.
Darnall said there was enough blood sampled for a full analysis on Burkeen. While preliminary results indicated no alcohol present, a full drug analysis is ongoing at the Kentucky Crime Lab. Burkeen said the tests have been expedited and full results could be available within the next two weeks.