Ontario: Drinking and driving … and sleepwalking

Final stage set to begin in trial of driver who claims he got drunk while asleep

An Ontario judge will hear final arguments on Friday in a novel impaired driving case in which the defendant claims to have gotten drunk while he was asleep.

John Soong, a 20-year-old student, testified earlier this week that he must have consumed alcohol -- he had almost twice the legal amount in his system when he was arrested -- while wandering around a Wilfrid Laurier University student residence in a daze in March, 2008.

Police stopped Mr. Soong after he left the residence and drove around downtown Waterloo, Ont. He was charged with impaired driving, evading police and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle.
Mr. Soong’s lawyer, Edward Hung, produced a sleep expert at the trial who testified that his client has a long-standing sleep disorder, sleep apnea, and could have consumed alcohol without knowing what he was doing.

“He wasn’t making it up because of the charges,” Mr. Hung said in an interview. “He is not a drinker and had no recollection that he had alcohol. The only opportunity for him to have had alcohol was while he was sleeping.”

People with sleep apnea typically stop breathing for short periods during the night and may become extremely drowsy as a result.
Students at the residence testified this week that Mr. Soong appeared to be in a daze on the evening he was arrested. “They said that he was unresponsive, kind of passive,” Mr. Hung said.

“This was not like him. He is always talkative, very witty -- a good conversationalist.”

Mr. Soong said that he took several medications for a cold and went to bed shortly before 11 p.m. the night he was arrested. He said that he woke up a couple of hours later and decided to go out for some fast food.
Crown prosecutor Michael Murdoch contends that whether he was asleep or awake when he consumed alcohol, Mr. Soong should have realized that he was in no state to drive.