Appeal from Sedgwick District Court; J. PATRICK WALTERS, judge.
SYLLABUS BY THE COURT 1. The term "operate" in K.S.A. 8-1567 is synonymous with the word "drive." Accordingly, one who "operates" or "drives" a vehicle is the "operator" or "driver" of that vehicle. 2. Pursuant to K.S.A. 8-1416, an individual who exerts "actual physical control of a vehicle" is the driver or operator of that vehicle. 3. An intoxicated passenger can operate, or in other words, exert "actual physical control of a vehicle" in violation of K.S.A. 8-1567 by grabbing the steering wheel from the passenger seat and altering the vehicle's movement. 4. When a passenger with a suspended license turns the wheel of a vehicle, the passenger has exerted "actual physical control of a vehicle" sufficient to be convicted of driving with a suspended license under K.S.A. 8-262(a)(1).
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bruns, J.:
Before MALONE, C.J., HILL and BRUNS, JJ.
Dieondra Sanchez was charged and convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) and driving with a suspended license. In the early morning, Sanchez, who had been drinking, was riding in the passenger seat of her boyfriend's car. While arguing with her boyfriend, Sanchez grabbed the steering wheel, jerked it to the right, and caused the car to crash into a concrete barrier. She walked away from the accident, but a Highway Patrol trooper found her about a block away. Sanchez consented to the trooper's request for a blood test, which showed that her blood alcohol concentration was .21. The trooper also discovered that she had a suspended driver's license. Sanchez appeals her convictions, maintaining that she was not driving or operating the car when she grabbed the steering wheel while sitting in the passenger seat. We disagree and affirm her convictions.
On May 1, 2009, at about 1 a.m., Trooper Aaron McGuire responded to an accident on I-135 in Sedgwick County. At the scene of the accident, Trooper McGuire met with Curtis Hines to determine what had happened. Hines said that he and his passenger, who he identified as Sanchez, got into an argument while he was driving. According to Hines, Sanchez grabbed the steering wheel, jerked it to the right, directed the car through crash barrels into a concrete barrier, then got out of the car and walked away. Trooper McGuire performed field sobriety tests on Hines and determined that he was not intoxicated. Hines then voluntarily filled out a statement recounting his version of the events.
Trooper Ryan Barnes arrived at the accident scene to assist Trooper McGuire. Shortly thereafter, Sanchez was located about a block away. She claimed that Hines had cut her, and she requested transport to the hospital. At the hospital, Sanchez alternated from being calm to acting aggressively. She admitted she had been drinking and consented to a blood alcohol test. Test results revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .21, which is over the limit of .08, and she was issued a citation for DUI and driving with a suspended license.
During a bench trial, Hines recanted the version of events that he gave Trooper McGuire at the scene. He testified that he had lied because he was mad at Sanchez. He further testified that neither he nor Sanchez had been drinking the night of the accident. He explained that they got into an argument in the car after he asked Sanchez to return an engagement ring, and when he tried to grab the ring, the car crashed into the concrete barrier.
Sanchez also testified that she had an argument with Hines over the ring and she denied grabbing the steering wheel. Although Sanchez admitted that she had one glass of wine before the accident, she claimed she drank a bottle of Jack Daniels that she had in her purse as she was walking away from the accident. According to Sanchez, she tossed the bottle somewhere prior to making contact with Trooper Barnes.
The district court determined the testimony of the troopers regarding the version of events to be more credible than that of Hines or Sanchez. It concluded that Sanchez had grabbed the steering wheel from the passenger seat and, as a result, caused the car to crash. The district court also concluded that at the time she grabbed the steering wheel, Sanchez was under the influence of alcohol. Thus, Sanchez was found guilty of DUI and driving with a suspended license.