A closer look at diabetes and driving

Courtny Gerrish, Stephanie Graham

A closer look at diabetes and driving

CREATED Feb. 27, 2012 - UPDATED: Feb. 27, 2012

NEW BERLIN - Three people died in a crash February 12 on Sunny Slope Road in New Berlin. It's a crash that rocked the entire community.

One neighbor says, "Several people's lives changed forever, and it's really sad."

Two families' lives will never be the same. Marilyn Erdman lost several family members in the crash--daughter Patricia, her son Tom, and his wife Cathy.

"You shouldn't have to bury your children," Marilyn says.

Police say the man behind the wheel of the other car had a diabetic seizure.

Dr. Paul Knudson is an Endocrinologist with Froedtert and the Medical College. He reasons, "You know, he could have been doing everything right, and still bad things happen. but it's very rare."

This is not the first time diabetes has been named as the cause of a crash..

In Pennsylvania in 2009, an 8-year-old boy saved himself and his pregnant mom who went into diabetic shock while driving. Another case, was right here in Wisconsin in 2004. A med van driver suffered a diabetic reaction and crashed into a guard rail, killing a passenger.

Also in 2009, a man in California was charged with manslaughter and reckless driving. Prosecutors blamed his uncontrolled diabetes.

So when and how do crashes like these turn into a criminal case? Unlike a case of drunk driving, or other negligent activity, diabetes and other medical causes are hard to prove. Dan Davis is with Davis & Gelshenen law firm in Milwaukee.

He explains, "When it's caused by something like illness without forewarning, it can be be more traumatic because there's nobody to blame."

Davis is a personal injury lawyer, and represents people injured in auto accidents. "[I] help people get their lives back together after something like this happens."

He has handled crashes involving medical conditions before.

"It all comes down to doing the research, finding the medical history of the person, whether or not this is something that's happened before, or whether they were experiencing symptoms close in time to the accident," he says.

Davis says the burden of proof is on the driver with the illness to prove the attack came on without forewarning. But he adds, "Certainly, if an illness comes upon you without warning, and you cause an accident you shouldn't be held responsible for it."

Dr. Knudson sees many diabetic patients. He says they can lead very normal, productive lives.

"With good self-management skills, you can drive very safely," he asserts.

Dr. Knudsen tells his patients to have an idea what their blood sugar is before they get behind the wheel. He explains, "You should always have the tools at hand to check, and the treatment at hand, in case it comes on unexpectedly."

As for the crash in New Berlin, police continue to reconstruct the scene, and decipher whether this tragedy could have been prevented. Marilyn had this message for the other driver: "I just forgive him. He was part of the master plan, and he needs to forgive himself."

We spoke to an acquaintance of the driver with diabetes. He says the driver is broken up about what happened, and takes insulin regularly. The Waukesha County D.A. says he is waiting on a report from the police. No word yet if any charges will be filed.

One man inside the family's car, William Wagner, did survive. He has been discharged from the hospital.