Man charged with driving school van while drugged      

 Shawn McCarthy, 48

HAVERHILL — A 48-year-old man is charged with driving under the influence of drugs after the school van he was driving crashed with a teenage student inside, police said.

Shawn McCarthy of Exeter, New Hampshire is charged with driving under the influence of drugs, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, possession of a class E substance and reckless endangerment of a child, police said.

McCarthy was arrested just before 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the area of Westgate Plaza, police said. McCarthy was sitting in the passenger area of an NRT Inc. school van when police arrived.

McCarthy was arraigned Friday in Haverhill District Court, where he posted $1,000 bail and was released.

His court-appointed lawyer, David Stuehr, said McCarthy takes prescribed medications for medical conditions including diabetes. McCarthy told police that he suffers from diabetes and that he recently changed to a high dosage and that he "woke up late" on Thursday.

McCarthy also regularly uses a sleeping pill at night, the lawyer said. McCarthy will check with his doctor about whether the medications are causing problems with him, the Stuehr said.

According to a police report on file at the court, a 13-year-old girl told investigators that McCarthy picked her up at the Bartlett Middle School in Lowell about 4:30 p.m. Thursday, as he does every afternoon, to transport her to her mother's home on Primrose Street in Haverhill.

Lowell School Superintendent Jeannine Durkin issued a statement on Friday indicating that one of her students was riding in the van that was involved in an accident on Thursday.

"One of our students was on board, and we have been informed that the driver was arrested," she said. "We will continue to work closely with NRT Inc. to take the appropriate actions necessary to ensure the safety of all of our students."

The Eagle-Tribune was unable to reach anyone with NRT Inc. in Methuen for comment.

According to the police report, the girl told police that during the trip from Lowell to Haverhill McCarthy was speeding on Interstate 495 and drifting between lanes, so she asked him to slow down.

The girl became so frightened that she asked him to pull over and he got off the highway at Exit 49, River Street in Haverhill, where the van hit a sign and sideswiped a guardrail, she told police, according to the report.

McCarthy eventually pulled into the Walgreens store parking lot on River Street, where the girl took his cell phone and called her parents, the report said.

Police were called to the scene, where the mother had arrived and placed her daughter in a car, according to the report. The mother told police that McCarthy was unable to form complete sentences, the report said. Officer Caitlin Beardsley-Brady, who was dispatched to the scene, said McCarthy's speech was slurred, according to the report, and he was placed under arrest.

The girl was taken to Holy Family Hospital for reported pain in her right shoulder and right knee, the police report said.

A supplemental police report noted that a search of the van turned up six Zolpidem (Ambien) pills in the driver's seat area.

McCarthy told police and Trinity Ambulance personnel that he is a "Type A High Diabetic."

A check of his blood sugar level by ambulance personnel indicated normal blood sugar levels, according to the police report.

McCarthy also told police he takes Metformin for diabetes and medication for reflux and migraines, although he did not know the names of those medications. McCarthy said he also takes medication for high blood pressure and has some sort of nerve damage to his right leg groin area.

Officer Michael Tortorise administered a field sobriety test, which he said McCarthy had trouble passing. Tortorise subsequently charged McCarthy with driving under the influence of drugs.

The van had extensive damage to the right front passenger side of the vehicle and the front right tire was falling off its rim, according to the police report. The van is registered to a Methuen company and has nothing to do with Haverhill schools, officials of the School Department said.

According to the police report, McCarthy didn't appear to know the van had been in a crash when the officer arrived. McCarthy said the van had a flat tire, the officer said. McCarthy had a small cut on his head but told the officer he was not injured, according to the report. He appeared to be lethargic, the report said.

During booking at the Haverhill Police Station, McCarthy agreed to be evaluated by a certified drug recognition expert. McCarthy told police that he had a prescription for Ambien, a sleep medication, and that he took it at 11 p.m. on Wednesday. Police said McCarthy could not explain why the medication was in a school van or not in a prescription bottle. He later told police that he did not have a prescription for Ambien.

The police DRE indicated in his supplemental report that in his opinion, McCarthy was under the influence of a Central Nervous System depressant and was not able to operate a motor vehicle safely.

The pills police found in the van were sent to the State Police Crime Lab for testing, according to the police report.