Lawsuits by people who are convicted of crimes are rarely successful when they attempt to shift responsibility for criminal behavior. Juries tend to be skeptical of convicted criminals who blame others for their illegal conduct. Still, a former deputy sheriff is relying on an expert witness to help him prove that an I.V. administered by a paramedic caused him to shoot his neighbor.
During the early morning of May 17, 2015, Joshua Dean Nash left a party and went to the home of his neighbor in Snow Creek, Virginia. Nash shot his neighbor in the shoulder with a .380 Smith & Wesson. Nash then sat in the neighbor’s recliner. When the police found him, he was unresponsive.
Nash arrived at the party at about 10:00 p.m. Witnesses say he was “drinking heavily.” Nash contends that he went to the party with nine Coors Light beers but did not drink them all. As Nash recalls it, he sat in a chair and drifted off to sleep. He denies being drunk but does not recall anything that happened after he sat in the chair.
Someone at the party apparently called 911, expressing the concern that Nash had passed out. A paramedic who arrived at the party decided to administer an I.V. in an attempt to hydrate Nash and to help him sober up. After Nash received two liters of saline solution over the period of one half hour, his wife woke him up and drove him home. She noted that he was slurring his words and walking with difficulty.
Nash’s wife parked their truck and walked to the house so that she could deactivate the burglar alarm. When she returned to the truck, Nash was gone. Shortly after that, he shot his neighbor, who had just stepped out of the shower to find Nash standing in his living room.
The neighbor and Nash agree that there was no “bad blood” between them. Why Nash shot the neighbor is a mystery to both of them.
Nash’s Expert Explains the Shooting
Nash entered an Alford plea to felony charges of unlawful shooting and discharging a firearm in an occupied building. An Alford plea allows a defendant to concede that the evidence against him is sufficiently strong to establish guilt while continuing to maintain his innocence. The plea results in a conviction.
To persuade the prosecutor to enter into a plea agreement, Nash relied upon the report of an expert toxicologist. Gerry Henningsen theorized that the rapid infusion of the I.V. probably produced fluid overload resulting in water intoxication. Prosecutors conceded that a jury might accept that theory and find Nash not guilty.
Henningsen testified as an expert witness at Nash’s sentencing. He again expressed the opinion that the I.V. caused water intoxication. The judge gave Nash a three year suspended sentence on the unlawful shooting charge. He deferred the sentence for discharging a firearm. That charge could be dismissed after a year if Nash complies with the terms of his community supervision.
As a result of the felony convictions, Nash cannot legally possess a firearm. He is therefore precluded from returning to his former career in law enforcement. He also lost custody of his son. The paramedic who administered the I.V. resigned from her position after the shooting.
The Civil Suit
Nash is suing the former paramedic for $1 million, contending that she is the source of his troubles. The lawsuit is based on the expert’s belief that the rapid administration of the saline solution caused water intoxication that accounted for Nash’s bizarre behavior.
Too much water can cause a form of intoxication by reducing the amount of sodium in the body’s blood supply. However, Nash may have an uphill battle convincing a jury that he became intoxicated because of water rather than beer. Since beer has very little sodium content, drinking too much beer can also reduce the amount of sodium in the blood supply, while excessive alcohol consumption inevitably causes intoxication.
In addition, administering a saline solution is a recognized treatment for water intoxication, since saline restores sodium to the blood. News reports do not say whether the paramedic administered a normal saline solution, or a hypotonic saline solution that has half the normal saline content and is more likely to cause water intoxication.
The defense will likely engage its own experts to express opinions about whether saline solution causes water intoxication and whether Nash was the victim of water intoxication or beer intoxication. If the case does not settle, a jury will eventually need to decide which expert opinion is more persuasive.