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Test: Teen driver was drunk

A preliminary blood test indicates an Ashland teen was drunk when he sped through downtown Medford in a Jeep Cherokee and slammed into a Chevy Blazer, killing himself and the other vehicle's driver.

Providence Medford Medical Center officials tested Kevan Thatcher-Stephens' blood Friday and measured the 17-year-old's blood-alcohol content at .16 percent, said Dr. James Olson, a forensic pathologist who serves as medical examiner for southwestern Oregon.

The blood sample has been sent to an Oregon State Police laboratory in Portland for confirmation of Thatcher-Stephens' suspected blood-alcohol level, Olson said.

We will retest it, Olson said. Results of official toxicology exams should be available in two to three weeks.

An adult driver in Oregon is considered legally drunk when his blood-alcohol level reaches .08 percent. Minors under the age of 21 are prohibited from drinking alcohol.

— Olson said autopsies were completed Tuesday for Thatcher-Stephens and Charles Bench, 26, of Shady Cove. A blood sample from Bench is also being analyzed by the state police lab.

Both died after the Cherokee driven by Thatcher-Stephens ran a red light and struck Bench's Blazer at about 9:30 p.m. Friday at the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Jackson Street in Medford. Two other people were injured in the crash.

Police said initial reports indicated Thatcher-Stephens was driving between 90 and 100 mph while speeding away from a Talent police officer and a Jackson County sheriff's captain. The officers became involved after learning the Jeep had been seen traveling at a high rate of speed along South Pacific Highway.

Talent police Officer Jeff Price, who was in Medford during an evening meal break, began following the Cherokee near the intersection of Riverside and Barnett Road. Moments later, sheriff's Capt. Joe Puckett got behind the Talent patrol cruiser to cover Price, Sheriff Mike Winters said.

Puckett has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an Oregon State Police review of his involvement in the pursuit that preceded the crash, Winters said.

It's just a formality, Winters said of the decision. Any time an officer is involved with something like this, we do an investigation.

Talent police Chief Bob Rector said Price remains on active duty and that no personnel action involving the officer is anticipated.

Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston said Wednesday that Puckett's participation in Friday night's incident has prompted him to refer the crash investigation to prosecutors in neighboring Josephine County. Because Puckett is a senior supervisor at the sheriff's department, Huddleston said he wanted an outside agency to investigate officers' behavior in order to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

I wouldn't say (the decision) was automatic, but (Puckett's involvement) is definitely a consideration, Huddleston said. (Josephine) is the closest county, and we've traded cases back and forth for years.

Medford police Lt. Tim George said investigators hope to complete their probe of the crash by the end of this week.

A secretary at the Josephine County prosecutor's office said District Attorney Stephen Campbell instructed her to tell reporters that he was not available Wednesday to answer questions in connection with the investigation.

The father of a 16-year-old Cherokee passenger who survived the wreck said because of the ongoing investigation, he is not yet ready to assign blame in the crash that sent his son to the hospital with a punctured lung and other injuries.

We're going to have to let the investigation play out because it is very complicated, said Andrew Graham-Collier of Ashland. It's not any one person's fault ' it was a combination of events.

His son, Ian, was released from the hospital earlier this week and is now recovering at home.

A passenger in the Blazer, Mark Robustelli, 27, of Medford, was listed in serious condition Wednesday at Providence, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The fact that my son and (Robustelli) survived is a miracle, Graham-Collier said. The rest is a tragedy.

Graham-Collier said he was surprised to learn that investigators suspect Thatcher-Stephens had been drinking before the crash. Another shock came when it was discovered that Thatcher-Stephens was driving while his license was suspended.

Driver and Motor Vehicle Services spokesman David House said Thursday that he incorrectly told the earlier this week that Thatcher-Stephens had been issued a hardship permit Feb. — that allowed him to drive to work.

Thatcher-Stephens should not have been driving at all, House said. He was suspended.

DMV records show Thatcher-Stephens' license was suspended in January after he received a speeding ticket in Talent for driving 74 mph in a 45-mph zone in September. The teen was also ticketed at the time for careless driving, driving without a license and failure to provide proof of insurance, according to DMV.

I would like to know if one of my kid's friends had a suspended license, said Graham-Collier, who suggested public notification in cases involving a license suspension.

We're all just getting information as it comes and processing it, but it seems there's a pattern here that raises many questions, he said.

Reach reporter Jack Moran at 776-4459, or e-mail .

Reporter JoNel Aleccia contributed to this story.