A Farmington man involved in a deadly head-on car crash last month west of Durango was driving under the influence of multiple prescription drugs, according to a toxicology report released this week.
David J. Hooper, 51, who died along with two others in the fiery crash after crossing into oncoming traffic, tested positive for a muscle relaxant, an antidepressant and a drug to treat seizures or panic disorders.
These medications, individually and in combination, are capable of causing drowsiness and impairment, and this is, in my opinion, the most likely precipitator of the crash, wrote La Plata County Coroner Dr. Carol Huser in an autopsy report.
The crash occurred about 5 p.m. March 22 in the 7000 block of U.S. Highway 160, about three miles west of Hesperus.
Hooper was driving westbound in a 2011 Chevy pickup when he crossed the double-yellow line and entered the eastbound lane, colliding head-on with a 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser.
The FJ Cruiser was occupied by a Colorado Springs family of four, two of whom were killed: Robert Bobby McDonald and his son, Jaden, 10.
Bobbys wife, Leslie Wachter McDonald, and another son, Kellen, 12, suffered burns over 60 percent of their bodies. Leslie was last reported to be in satisfactory condition at University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, and Kellen was last reported to be in critical but stable condition in a Salt Lake City hospital.
Efforts to reach a family spokesman for an update about their conditions were unsuccessful Friday afternoon.
Hoopers body was so badly charred from the vehicle fire that it was impossible to rule out fatal head injuries as the official cause of his death, according to the autopsy report.
Witnesses saw no attempt by Hooper to exit the burning vehicle, suggesting he died on impact or was unconscious.
The level of carbon monoxide in Hoopers blood was low, and his respiratory system and esophagus had no soot deposits, suggesting he took few if any breaths after the fire, the autopsy report says.
Hooper had a history of driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
Five months before the fatal crash, shortly before noon Oct. 19, 2010, Hooper was stopped about three miles west of Durango on Highway 160.
Another driver saw him weaving, and a trooper for the Colorado State Patrol arrested him for driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
The case was pending in La Plata County Court at the time of the fatal crash.
Under state law, drivers suspected of driving under the influence of drugs do not lose their licenses until they have been convicted of the crime.
In an earlier interview with the Herald, Hoopers ex-wife, Kathy Hooper, said Hooper used painkillers for 15 to 20 years for an arthritic condition in his back.
Hooper, who served 20 years as an officer with the Farmington Police Department, obtained the injury during a brawl with a suspect, his ex-wife said.
The official cause of Hoopers death was listed as multiple blunt trauma.
Given the circumstances, undocumented blunt force injuries to the head resulting from the crash are by far the most likely cause of death, the report concludes.