Local blood lab producing quick results
The amount of time that local prosecutors have to wait for test results on blood samples in drunken-driving cases has been radically cut in the five months since a hospital in Hickory began conducting the tests, officials say.
Getting test results once could take up to two years because of backlogs at the State Crime Lab in Raleigh.
But since the district attorney's office for the 25th District signed an agreement five months ago for Catawba Valley Medical Center to do the testing in drunken-driving cases, the wait now can be days or as little as a matter of hours, District Attorney Jay Gaither said.
The State Crime Lab examines thousands of samples a year of all kinds of evidence from criminal investigations by local, state, federal and military and railroad police organizations, but the lab is chronically understaffed. The resulting backlog has sometimes prompted judges to issue rush orders requesting immediate testing, but often with little effect.
In the fiscal year 2011-12, Burke Caldwell and Catawba counties submitted 428 items to Raleigh for blood-alcohol or drug analysis.
The agreement with CVMC was signed in November, and since Dec. 1 that hospital has tested 36 blood samples, at least two of which were from Caldwell County cases.
The 25th District was the first in the state to enter into an agreement with a local lab for blood analysis, but at least five other districts are now using local blood labs for testing, assistant district attorney Eric Bellas said, paid for by $500,000 the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts had in the state budget available to alleviate the backlog of evidence being processed at the state lab.