“No question this guy was impaired”
Deputies release man who then causes three-car accident on Highway 441
By Patrick Yost
A man questioned by Morgan County deputies after they found him asleep in a car in a church parking lot was involved in a serious accident less than an hour later and charged with DUI.
According to Georgia State Patrol Sgt. Justin Howard, Joseph Alan Morton, 24, Loganville, was charged with DUI alcohol/drugs, reckless driving and serious injury by vehicle in a Sunday, Sept. 9 wreck on U.S. 441 that put a Madison family in Athens Regional Hospital and a Pelham, Ga., woman on life support at Atlanta Medical Center.
According to Howard, Morton was charged in the 10 a.m. wreck after he allegedly struck the rear of a 2001 Crown Victoria driven by Victoria Metcalf, 56, Pelham. Howard said after the impact, Metcalf’s vehicle, which was traveling north on U.S. 441 near the intersection of Sandy Creek Road, crossed the center line and collided with a 2007 Ford Expedition driven by Michael Portwood, Jr., 37. Portwood, his wife, Alesha, 39, and daughter, Micha Portwood, 7, were all transported to Athens Regional Hospital by ambulance. Howard said Michael Portwood sustained a broken pelvis; Alesha Portwood sustained a broken wrist and bruised lung; and Micha Portwood suffered a broken leg.
Metcalf, who is employed by the Meigs, Ga., Police Department and was enroute to Athens to attend the Northeast Georgia Police Academy, was airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center after suffering serious internal injuries and is in critical but stable condition, Howard said.
According to a Morgan County Sheriff’s Office incident report, Morton was questioned in the parking lot of the Union Springs Baptist Church in Rutledge at approximately 9 a.m. the same morning of the wreck.
The incident reports state that Lt. Dietrich Roland responded to a complaint at Union Springs Baptist Church regarding a white male asleep in a grey Ford Fusion. Incident reports state that when Roland and Deputy George Jackson arrived, they located Morton asleep in his vehicle. Roland woke Morton and searched the vehicle and found no intoxicants, but did find prescription medicine prescribed to Morton.
Reports state that Roland detected the smell of alcohol but attempts to give Morton a breath test via a portable breathalyzer failed, in part, because Morton suffered mouth injury from the previous evening.
Reports state that when questioned Morton confirmed that he had consumed alcohol the prior evening.
The deputies then directed Morton to get back into his vehicle and with one deputy leading and one trailing Morton's vehicle, they escorted him to the parking lot of Cowboy's, approximately two miles away. During that drive, Roland noted, Morton did not show any signs of impairment. Once at Cowboy's, Roland directed Morton not to drive, but to call his parents for assistance. Roland stated in the report that he directed Morton not to drive because he was "unsure about (his) alcohol intake."
Approximately 10 minutes later, reports state, Roland found Morton's driver's license in his pocket and returned to Cowboy's to return the license.
Morton had left the parking lot.
According to Howard with the Georgia State Patrol, witnesses reported that Morton entered U.S. 441 at the intersection of Madison's Main Street and U.S. 441 at the Madison bypass. One witness said Morton was behind her and was driving erratically, The witness said Morton "was all over the road," Howard said.
The witnesses both told Howard that just past the former Morgan County Sheriff's Office on U.S. 441 Morton's vehicle left the roadway on the right hand side and slid approximately 40 feet of the road. One witness then called 911, Howard said, thinking she had witnessed a wreck. Morton's vehicle lurched back onto the highway, Howard said, and continued north at a high rate of speed. Approximately a quarter mile later he allegedly struck the back of Metcalf's vehicle.
Howard said at the wreck scene he interviewed the two witnesses before speaking with Morton. "Based upon the witness statements we felt like we had somebody impaired," Howard said.
Howard said he directed Deputy Jackson, who had arrived at the accident scene, to give Morton a breath test via the portable breathalyzer. The results of the portable breathalyzer were "indicative of alcohol above the legal limit," Howard said.
Howard said he spoke with Morton and Morton told him he had consumed alcohol the night prior to the accident and that he had taken prescription drugs. Howard said he located pill bottles in Morton's vehicle that contained Paxil, Xanax and Lisinoprol. All the medications were prescribed to Morton, Howard said.
"There is no question this guy was impaired," Howard said.
"It was just a matter of time before he was going to hit someone."
Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley said the incident is under internal review at the sheriff's office.
"We're in the process of reviewing our officers actions during the call at Union Springs," Markley said. He also said that Roland has been placed on "administrative duties until an investigation into this incident is complete."
Printed in the September 13 edition.