Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jan 2016
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The London Free Press
Author: Jane Sims
Page: A1


Derek Lyons had slurred speech, a glazed-over stare and was slow and 
unsteady on his feet. He'd just tapped his front bumper on the back 
of a woman's new car when he had pulled into a London gas station to 
buy cigarettes on a Saturday morning in May 2014. Police were called: 
The woman thought Lyons was "spaced out, not quite all there" - high 
on drugs. The 30-year old former OHL hockey player, who's had five 
concussions, was slumped over in the cruiser as police took him to the station.

Over the next three hours, he couldn't follow instructions. He 
stumbled so badly, he had to grab an officer's arm to steady himself 
and gave strange answers to routine questions. His impairment seemed 
to get worse. He couldn't walk a straight line as directed without 
bracing himself against a wall. His heart was pounding. He threw up 
in a garbage can. Lyons appeared to be so high for so long, that cell 
officers called paramedics to look at him.

There was no smell of alcohol. The officer evaluating Lyons for 
impairment concluded he must be on drugs. He was charged with impaired driving.

But the police didn't realize that something else could be going on 
in Lyons' head. Wednesday, in London, Ontario Court Justice Thomas 
McKay acquitted Lyons, concluding his symptoms could have been 
related to his post-concussion syndrome and an anxiety disorder - not drugs.

"In this situation, in which Mr. Lyons suffers from a specific 
medical issue which produces symptoms consistent with impairment, the 
opinion formed by (the police) was formed without critical 
information which could have impacted that opinion," McKay wrote in 
his decision.

Lyons, who played for the Mississauga Ice Dogs and the Kingston 
Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League, suffered four concussions in 
his playing career that ended a decade ago.

His fifth concussion, so severe he lost consciousness, happened at 
his job a couple weeks before his arrest. He'd just been cleared by 
his doctor to return to work.

He's been treated for his syndrome and anxiety disorder that requires 
him to take prescription drugs. His anxiety becomes worse in groups 
of people, or when he's under extreme stress. It causes him to become 
dizzy, sweaty, and his hands and knees will shake.

At trial last fall, Lyons testified that on May 24, 2014, he realized 
he was out of smokes and drove to the gas station for cigarettes, gas 
and snacks. He had his foot on the brake and was in line for a pump, 
but his wallet was in the back seat.

When he turned to grab it, his foot slipped off the brake and rolled 
into the woman's car. He started to feel anxious. He was breathing 
heavily, his sentences were short and he was shaking. When the woman 
said she was calling the police, he began to have a full-blown panic attack.

He told the police he'd had concussions. When shown the video in 
court of his conduct at the station, he testified his behaviour was 
like his other anxiety attacks. He added he hadn't taken his anxiety 
medication that morning, even though he told the first officer on the 
scene that he had taken his drugs.

Lyons said his panic attack at the station was "a nine out of 10."

His doctor, Henryk Pietrus, also testified. He watched the video of 
Lyons at the station and said his bizarre behaviour was consistent 
with several interactions he's had with Lyons at his office during a 
panic attack, albeit not as severe.

Pietrus said Lyons suffers from severe anxiety disorder and his 
symptoms, McKay noted in his decision, "include dizziness, shaking, 
confusion, issues with concentration and sleep, increases in blood 
pressure and pulse rates and psychological symptoms."

A panic attack usually lasts 20 minutes to an hour. Pietrus had never 
seen a longer spell because, as a medical official, he'd likely have 
intervened with medication.

Lyons' urine analysis showed he had no illegal drugs in his system.

McKay, analyzing the evidence, said it was curious Lyons' symptoms 
got worse once the police arrived. "The symptoms apparently did no 
abate while Mr. Lyons was in police custody," he said. He noted 
Lyons' actions were so strange and severe, paramedics were called. 
"That would be consistent that he was suffering from a panic attack, 
and the source of that attack was not being removed from the 
equation." The police officer who looked at Lyons isn't trained "to 
evaluate an individual for medical issues such as anxiety disorder," 
McKay said, and if the police start with the proposition that someone 
is impaired by a drug, symptoms like Lyons showed "would 
significantly impact the opinion ultimately arrived at." McKay said 
the Crown couldn't prove its case and found Lyons not guilty.

Defence lawyer Ron Ellis said he was happy for Lyons, who, despite 
his anxiety issues, was able to testify - an experience Lyons said 
was a "six out of 10" for panic.

"I'm very pleased for my client because he struggles with these 
issues and I don't believe he was guilty of the offence," Ellis said.
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