Court accepts drunken driving case with broad implications


COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio’s highest court agreed Tuesday to weigh in on whether a passerby’s warning justified a drunken driving stop in a case both sides agree could change how people can alert authorities to potential crimes.

The Ohio Supreme Court voted 4-3 to accept the case of a Cincinnati woman who was stopped by a state trooper and accused of drunk driving, Cleveland.com reported.

Trooper Jacques Illanz was in a gas station in November 2017 to investigate a nearby accident when a customer called out to him and pointed to Sherry Tidwell, who was backing her car out of a parking space, according to court documents.

The passerby yelled to the trooper, “Hey, stop that vehicle, that lady is drunk.”

Illanz motioned for Tidwell to stop, but when she continued moving slowly, the trooper got in front of her vehicle.

When Tidwell rolled down her window at his request, her eyes were bloodshot, her speech was slurred, and the inside of her vehicle smelled of alcohol, according to Illanz’s testimony.

She was arrested after a field test showed a blood-alcohol level more than two times the legal limit for driving.

The customer, who had been told by the gas station clerk to alert the trooper, left without identifying himself, Illanz said.

Two lower courts ruled that Illanz did not have the “reasonable suspicion” to stop Tidwell and that he had acted only on an anonymous tip of uncertain credibility.

An appeals court ruled that the passerby’s shout to the trooper did not justify him in stopping Tidwell.

“Specifically, the tip did not contain any detail,” the appeals ruling stated. “The customer did not say, for example, that Tidwell was falling down drunk or consuming alcohol inside the Speedway, or nearly hit something while driving to the Speedway.”

Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Melynda Machol said she believes the appeals ruling would only inhibit law enforcement from performing their duties and force them “to wait until preventable tragedies occur.”

No oral arguments have been scheduled.