NORTH LIBERTY — A 24-year-old North Liberty man has been arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after being hospitalized with a blood alcohol level of 0.627 percent, high enough to have killed him and the highest level Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said she’s ever seen.
Justin A. Clark was driving a car in the area of Red Barn Drive in North Liberty just after 10 p.m. July 29 when neighbors noticed him driving erratically, according to a criminal complaint. Residents reported Clark was “all over the road,” hitting curbs and running up into one person’s yard, police reported.
When police arrived, residents flagged down the officers and pointed out Clark, who was sitting in his running vehicle revving the engine, according to the complaint. An officer approached Clark through the driver’s side window, and Clark was unable to answer questions clearly, police reported.
Clark also was unable to get out of his vehicle and walk on his own and perform roadside tests, according to the complaint. Clark was given a breath test that showed his blood alcohol content level at 0.486 percent.
He was hospitalized, and a blood test showed his blood alcohol content at 0.627 percent. The complaint was not immediately filed pending test results, and Lyness said her office received the complaint Monday.
National studies have shown that blood alcohol content levels above 0.30 percent can cause a person to go into a coma or to die.
University of Iowa student and fraternity member Matthew Garofalo died in 1995 after he choked on his own vomit following a night of drinking beer and hard alcohol. His blood alcohol content was at 0.188 percent when he died, although officials believe it might have peaked as high as 0.3 percent.
Michael Takacs, clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine and an emergency room doctor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said 0.627 percent is higher than any level he’s seen during his eight years in the field.
At that level, Takacs said, a person would have to go to the intensive care unit and would be at risk of losing heart and respiratory functions.
“That’s astronomically high, and the highest I’ve ever heard of,” Takacs said. “For even the most seasoned alcoholic, 0.627 would be a lethal dose possibly.”
To get to a 0.627 percent blood alcohol level, Takacs said, a person would have to consume 35 shots, bottles of beer or glasses of wine in four hours.
And even though Clark survived, Takacs said, high blood alcohol levels can have lasting health effects, including brain atrophy and liver damage.
Clark could not be reached for comment.