SLC detective’s attorney says officer wanted blood drawn to help the unconscious patient keep his commercial driver license

In this July 26, 2017, frame grab from video taken from a police body camera and provided by attorney Karra Porter, nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Utah police department is making changes after the officer dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient. (Salt Lake City Police Department/Courtesy of Karra Porter)

An attorney representing Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne said Friday that his client wanted a blood sample from an unconscious semi driver who had been admitted to University Hospital so the injured man could keep his commercial driver license.

Attorney Greg Skordas said Friday that a federal regulation requires a blood sample when a driver with a commercial driver license (CDL) is involved in a fatal accident, and that Logan police had asked Payne get the sample. By getting a CDL, a driver is assumed to have consented to a blood draw, Skordas said.

The patient, William Gray, was driving a rig on U.S. 89/91 near Sardine Canyon on July 26, when a man fleeing from the Utah Highway Patrol crashed a pickup truck into him head-on, according to Logan police, who investigated the collision.

The crash caused an explosion and fire, police said, and the driver of the pickup, Marcos Torres, died at the scene. Gray, 43, who was on fire when he exited his truck, was taken to University Hospital and placed in the burn unit.

A few hours later, Payne arrived to get the blood sample, but nurse Alex Wubbels told him repeatedly that hospital policy barred a draw unless the patient is under arrest, there is a warrant allowing the draw or the patient consents. The detective acknowledged none of those circumstances was in place but both he and his supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, insisted implied consent and exigent circumstances allowed the draw.

Wubbels continued to cite the hospital policy and Payne, who contended she was interfering in an investigation, eventually arrested her. 

Skordas said the policy cited by Wubbels had nothing to do with the type of situation involving Gray — who, Skordas emphasized, was the victim in the crash and never suspected of any wrongdoing. A blood draw is a “pure administrative requirement” in cases like this, he said.

In his written report on the confrontation, submitted the night of July 26, Payne said the reason for getting the sample from Gray was “to protect him, not punish him.”

The Logan Police Department said in a Sept. 1 Facebook post that collecting blood is “a standard operating procedure” in fatal traffic accidents and the Salt Lake City Police Department was asked to assist in getting the draw in the July 26 collision.

More recently, Logan Police Chief Gary Jensen said that his investigator, after learning from Payne that he was having trouble getting the blood sample, told Payne, “Hey, don‘t worry about it, we’ll go another route.”

Wubbels, who was handcuffed and placed in a police car outside the hospital by Payne, was released after about 20 minutes and charges were never filed. Payne and another officer were placed on administrative leave after Wubbels’ attorney on Aug. 31 released police body camera footage of the confrontation and arrest.

Investigations of the matter are underway by the Salt Lake City Police Department’s internal affairs division, the city’s independent civilian review board and Salt Lake County’s Unified Police Department. In addition, the FBI is reviewing the case for any potential civil rights violations.

Gray, a full-time truck driver and reserve police officer in Rigby, Idaho, was initially in critical condition but was recently upgraded to serious condition.