Diabetic driver questions police action during traffic stop

Diabetic driver questions police action during traffic stop
A Bakersfield man who is diabetic is worried about police response after officers sprained his wrist during a traffic stop at Oak and California Avenues.

Frank Spencer, 49, has now changed his behavior, but he questions the hold officers put him into after they found him unconscious behind the wheel of his car.

"They put me in a wrist lock, which is the restraining move that they put you through," said Spencer. "And I guess the officer used a little bit too much force, because when he heard my arm pop, he let go."

The incident happened on September 23, and Bakersfield Police Sgt. Greg Terry said Spencer was reported by several drivers who didn't know if he was passed or asleep. But, his car was stopped in the intersection, still running.

Sgt. Terry said the officers who responded reached in, turned off the car, and tried to wake up Spencer. They said his eyes were blood-shot and he was speaking incoherently. Officers said they didn't smell alcohol.

Spencer said people with medical conditions might not be able to tell an officer what's happening, but he thinks police could try to get a response. "If they asked, 'do you have a medical condition that's causing you to act however you're acting?' at least they can nod," said Spencer.

But, Sgt. Terry said officers don't have time to do that. "In these types of situations it doesn't allow for the officers to inquire, or assess in these types of situations, because there are immediate threats to the public safety."

Terry said officers pulled Spencer out of the car when he started to reach for the gear shift. He said they were worried Spencer would start the car, and pull into traffic. Spencer said later he was trying to make sure the car was in park.

Police had called an ambulance to the scene, and once Spencer was out of the car they realized he had a medical emergency. He was taken to the hospital, and during that trip Spencer realized his wrist was very painful. His arm was checked at the hospital, and later by his own doctor.

Spencer's wrist will be in a brace for about three weeks. No bones were broken.

Police say the hold they used with Spencer is a "twist lock." Sgt. Terry said it's a "control hold" that uses minimum force, and he said it doesn't cause injuries in most cases.

Spencer is not completely satisfied with that response, but he admits he was a danger to the public at the time of the incident. Spencer's had type-one diabetes since he was 17. He uses insulin to control his blood sugar levels, but Spencer said he does not always know when it gets too low.

Now, Spencer is wearing a medical alert necklace so if he has a problem, emergency crews might recognize more quickly what the situation is.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and American Diabetes Association have advice for diabetics about driving. According to their website, when a diabetic driver's blood sugar gets too low or too high they can start to feel sleepy, dizzy, or confused. The website says the condition can lead to the driver losing consciousness or having a seizure.

The organizations say drivers need to take precautions. "Your health care team can help you determine when you should check your blood glucose level before driving and how often you should check while driving," reads the website.

They advise these drivers to always carry their blood glucose meter, and snacks that contain fast-acting sugar.

Spencer says he has snacks and his meter, and now he is also checking his blood sugar every time before he gets behind the wheel. He thinks other diabetics should also take precautions.

"If you feel any sign at all ghat your blood sugar's too low, you need to stop that car and take care of it," said Spencer.