When Cheryl Lee Daugherty swerved across six lanes of Interstate 95 in September, causing a crash that killed three people, she had methadone in her system — but prosecutors said Tuesday her actions will not result in criminal charges.
Daugherty had a legal prescription for the drug, her dosage was in “therapeutic range” and toxicologists couldn’t say whether it contributed to the crash, Assistant State Attorney Judith Arco said.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision, and it was one that made me heartsick,” Arco said. “It’s a tragedy because three people are dead.”
The only explanation Daugherty, 42, of Oakland Park could give investigators was that she heard a honk or a loud noise that startled her, causing her to lose control of her 2004 black Mercedes-Benz and veer directly toward two pickup trucks parked in a left-side emergency lane after a breakdown.
The crash —which took place about 10:15 a.m. Sept. 14 in the left northbound emergency lane just north of Woolbright Road — killed Covenant Services roofing workers Christopher Andrews, 25, of Pompano Beach, and Andrew Hickey, 42, of Deerfield Beach, who were under one a truck trying to fix it, and Robert McHenry, 61, of Deerfield Beach. Co-workers Ernest Woods and Thelonius McCarthy also were seriously injured.
Daugherty began taking methadone well before the accident, said her criminal defense attorney, John Riordan. Doctors had prescribed the drug, which commonly is used to offset heroin addiction, to help wean her off a prescription drug problem she developed after she was prescribed painkillers for an injury.
Arco said that despite the drug findings, she would have pushed the case forward if she had witnesses to testify that Daugherty appeared impaired. But even the Florida Highway Patrol troopers who interviewed her at the scene would have testified that they never suspected that she was impaired.
In a last-ditch attempt to salvage the prosecution, Arco said, she hoped to prove that the methadone dosage Daugherty received at a Pompano Beach pain clinic was high on the therapeutic range. But she discovered that Daugherty’s prescribed dosage was even lower than what investigators originally had thought.
Daugherty’s phone records proved she was neither on the phone nor texting before the crash, Arco said.
Relatives of the victims declined to comment when reached by phone. The families have sued Daugherty. McHenry’s wife, Mary, said she would have to clear any comment through her attorney.
Daugherty, whose license was suspended at the time of the crash, will face second-degree misdemeanor charges of driving on a suspended license. But because the suspension was due to a failure to pay a fine, she likely will escape a more serious charge.
Riordan said he felt Arco’s decision not to pursue charges was a just ending to what he called a tragic accident, but an accident nonetheless.
“What she’s going through is nothing to compare to what the victims families are facing, but she’s still devastated,” Riordan said. “This is something that she deals with every day.”