How Not to Refuse a Florida Sobriety Test: Bite the Cop

refuse-florida-sobriety-test-biteDUI patrol is not an easy job. It was particularly hard for some Leon County officers who responded to a call after a crash in Tallahassee. It appears an SUV had run a car off the road. The SUV’s  driver was unable to focus or speak.

Worse, when deputies tried to put her in the patrol car, she tried to bite them.

Eventually the officers had to call for backup to subdue the suspect.

The point is not that people should not bite police officers – though we stand by that rule as well. What’s  scary is that a person can get drunk enough so that she can’t finish a sentence, can’t control her actions, and can’t comprehend the trouble she’s in, yet she can drive a vehicle. And that’s the way it will be until some kind of technology arrives that prevents someone drunk from driving any vehicle.

As it stands, there is technology to keep drunks from driving some vehicles – those equipped with an ignition interlock. Right now 30 states mandate the devices for all drunk driving offenses. Florida does not – only first-time convicted drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or over are required to use the device. With repeat offenders it’s .08, as it should be.

The extreme nature of this encounter underscores the danger that alcohol poses on the road. A driver who is not aware that she’s broken the law and caused damage is a driver who could easily kill. Fortunately, no one was injured. A bike path was nearby, so it could have been much worse.

Florida also does not require an ignition interlock for refusing a sobriety test – even if that includes biting the tester. Legislators need to get together in Florida and pass some new drunk driving laws.

Ones with teeth.

 

Why Walk Like MADD in Gainesville Saturday? Her Name is Emily.

emily-cook-walk-like-madd

Emily Elizabeth Cook 1999 – 2014

There are a lot of ways to spend a Saturday morning in Gainesville, Florida. The most worthwhile way to pass this coming Saturday – 7 April 2018 – would be a walk to raise funds – and awareness – for the fight against drunk driving. The event is the Gainesville 2018 Walk Like MADD, organized by the northeast Florida chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

You don’t need a good reason to take a walk, but there is a very good reason for this one: her name is Emily Cook, a 15-year-old girl high school freshman who lost her life because she rode with a driver she didn’t know had been drinking. The driver lived, but Emily and her 13-year-old friend Ashely Ertle – the driver’s daughter – were killed. That was in 2014.

Emily’s mother, Mary Kelley, is providing the momentum for the event. The goal, according to Judy Cotton, Program Specialist for the Northeast Florida MADD, is “to bring awareness to this senseless and 100% preventable crime and to end drunk and drugged driving once and for all.”

MADD’s motto is No More Victims. The organization uses funds raised to support anti-drunk driving legislation (no-refusal laws, mandatory ignition interlock laws, and other proven measures), to help victims, and to raise awareness of the devastation that impaired driving causes on our roads and streets.

The route of the walk, which begins at 9 a.m., will pass by the scene of the crash on NW 53rd Avenue.

Participants who would like to walk, join a team, or create a team can register with MADD online. For some it will be a pleasant walk and a learning experience. For others it will be a time of remembrance. We hope that it will be another step toward No More Victims in Florida and beyond.

Gainesville Walk Like MADD 2018

Date: April 7, 2018

Place: Trinity Methodist Church

Registration: 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.

Event: 9:00 a.m. – Noon

Idaho’s Governor Signs All-Offender Ignition Interlock Law

idaho-signs-all-offender-ignition-interlock-lawIt began in California with something called the Farr-Davis Safety Act of 1986. That law required DUI offenders in four counties to use a new device called an ignition interlock, which used breathalyzer technology to prevent a car from starting if the driver has been drinking. The devices worked well, and  some public safety advocates wanted them for all offenders, not just repeat drunk drivers. In 2005 New Mexico became the first state to require all DUI offenders to use interlocks. Louisiana and Arizona followed, with good results: it was found that mandating the devices for all offenders reduced alcohol-related road deaths by a significant amount – in New Mexico’s case over 30 percent.

Which brings us to Idaho. 25 years later, Idaho has become the 31st state to require ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders. Governor Butch Otter just signed HB551 into law.

This is great news for Idahoans, who will be safer on the road. Every day convicted drunk drivers will try to drive after drinking – despite the law and what they know about the consequences – and every day the device will register “fail” and shut off their ignitions.

One state is an experiment. 30 is a trend, and it’s a trend that is saving lives all over the country. Our thanks to Gvernor Otter and the forward-thinking legislators who made HB551 possible.

Affluenza Teen Being Released. How Do We Feel About That?

ethan-couch-affluenza-teen-1Time flies. The question some are asking is if it’s flown too fast for Ethan Couch, the notorious “affluenza teen” who, at the age of 16, killed four people in a drunk driving crash he caused in Fort Worth, Texas.

Originally, Couch was sentenced to 10 years’ probation and therapy, but no prison time. The perceived leniency of that sentence caused nationwide outrage.

In any event, Couch did go to prison, due to subsequent violations. Altogether he has served two years in jail – 6 months for each of the four lives he ended. His term is almost up and victims’ families are faced with the prospect of seeing the man who caused their loved ones’ death walk free.

Unrepentant

There is sure to be objections to – even outrage at – his release, since sympathy is not something Couch comes by easily. He showed little remorse at his trial, and violated his probation terms. MADD and other anti-drunk driving activists were disgusted and angered when a video surfaced showing him drinking and carousing with friends, despite being banned from drinking by the judge.

Couch and is mother made things worse when they fled to Mexico, where they were eventually arrested and brought back to face justice.

Affluence and Teen Responsibility

Couch’s wealth and privileged upbringing was blamed for his unwillingness to take responsibility for the manslaughter. The psychologist who used the term “affluenza” in Couch’s defense now regrets the term, which he noted is a more modern way of saying, “spoiled brat.” The term “affluenza teen” caught the public imagination, though what the term stood for varied depending on if you thought the problem was wealth, modern society, alcohol, parental irresponsibility, or something else.

The Terms

Couch will continue to answer to the Tarrant County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. These are the terms of his probation:

  • He will have to wear an ankle monitor which tracks his location
  • He has a 9 p.m. curfew every night, and cannot leave his house until 8 a.m. the next day
  • He must submit blood, breath or other samples whenever required
  • He will wear a patch which registers if he has been drinking alcohol, or else must call a drug test hotline daily
  • All medications must be prescribed by a medical professional, and must be reported to probation
  • He must use an ignition interlock which is equipped with a camera (to verify that he is the one submitting the breath sample)

Most of these terms are designed to keep the public safe – ignition interlocks in particular, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. The close monitoring to prevent any alcohol or drug consumption is more to assist with his rehabilitation.

Interestingly enough, the psychologist at his original defense recommended not just treatment, but also no contact with the parents. That doesn’t appear to be among the requirements

Should Couch keep to these terms, he will not pose a danger to others on the roads, and might even evolve from the callousness being that his upbringing made him into someone more responsible.

What will never make sense to victims is how someone who has caused so much pain will once again walk the streets – and possibly drive on them. No justice system can fill the void left by the death of a loved one.

Road Safety Organization Tells Teens: You Are Worth It

What’s a life worth? More than anything else, most of us would say. But teenagers in particular don’t always act as if they agree. Too many of them routinely threaten their own lives – and the lives of others – needlessly by drinking and driving. An organization in Louisiana was created to address this problem by challenging the belief that lies behind this carelessness.

“You Are Worth It” was started by Bill Baldridge, who was a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver back in his teenage years. Two of his friends were killed in a crash that night. Baldridge lost his legs. Now he’s dedicating his time to preventing drunk driving.

The message of the organization, which can be found on its Facebook page, is direct and not the usual one directed at teens:

Your life and future is more valuable than the effort it takes to have a plan and be safe if using alcohol.

Telling kids not to drink is not on the agenda at YAWI. Planning is the point: if you drink, make a plan to get home safely that does not involve driving or riding with a drunk driver. Positive messages, we are finding, work better with teens than stern warnings.

Baldridge, a former police deputy and now a fire services dispatcher, has created youth empowerment programs designed to help teens realize their worth, their abilities, and their potential. The programs help young people pursue careers and achieve independence.

Encouragement and rewards, then, are the tools that You Are Worth It uses to inspire youth to make good decisions. It’s a worthy project. Bill Baldridge has taken the lessons he’s learned from his mistakes and life challenges and is using them to improve the lives of the next generation. That’s true generosity. Louisiana should be thankful for the gift YAWI is giving its youth.

Walk Like MADD Tampa Friday Evening: 11 Years of the Good Fight

Tampa-walk-like-maddThe army that battles drunk driving has many outposts. One of the most stalwart of them is the Tampa, Florida branch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). This Friday evening, 23 March, the office will hold the 11th annual Tampa Walk Like MADD, one of the oldest and longest-running MADD walking events in the nation.

The walk will take place on the main campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa. Participants are encouraged to obtain sponsorship from employers, friends, and family members to raise money for MADD’s activities. Companies can create teams, and other sponsors generously donate to the cause.

The funds go to further MADD’s goals:

  • Raise awareness of impaired driving and its costs to society
  • Promoting more effective anti-drunk driving legislation, including ignition interlock laws and high-visibility law enforcement
  • Helping victims cope with the effects of drunk driving crashes

This year’s event is presented by Burnetti PA, and the event’s honorary chairman is Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.  Sheriff Chronister, who oversees one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies, is dedicated to eradicating impaired driving.

Larry-Morrell-walk-like-madd

Hillsborough Sheriff’s Deputy Larry Morrell

The 2018 Tampa Walk Like MADD is dedicated to Hillsborough Sheriff’s Deputy Larry Morrell, who died of cancer last summer. A MADD supporter and a larger-than-life character, Larry worked on the DUI enforcement unit, taking a unique approach to educating students about drinking, and also schooling bartenders and store clerks in not selling to underage and impaired patrons. MADD named him Florida Law Enforcement Officer of the Year in 2016.  The award is now called the “Deputy Larry Morrell Law Enforcement Officer of the Year”.

Law enforcement officers will be walking to show their support for MADD’s Campaign to End Drunk Driving. There will also be victims’ families and friends, and many well-wishers and those who simply see drunk driving as a serious problem that needs eradication.

“MADD is needed. MADD is necessary. MADD is relevant,” says Larry Coggins, Jr, Executive Director of the West Central Florida branch of MADD. “ MADD has singlehandedly changed the American culture to recognize that drunk driving is unacceptable, 100% preventable, and is a violent crime.”

Since its inception MADD has helped reduce drunk fatalities from 25,000 per year to just over 10,000, but Coggins sees the success as incomplete until that number is zero. That is the reason for the 11th Annual Tampa Walk Like MADD.  If you’re in or near Tampa and you think No More Victims is a goal worth pursuing, you know where to be this Friday evening.

Tampa Walk Like MADD
Where: University of South Florida
Registration: 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Walk: 6:30pm – 8pm

More information about the event can be found here.

Cops: When Truck Hits House, “The House is Rarely At Fault”

Some collisions are hard to figure out. Others seem to scream out the cause. That’s the case with a truck that was recently found inserted into the side of a house in Moses Lake, Washington. Anyone looking at the scene would immediately conclude: drunk driver.

And that’s the correct conclusion. The driver was arrested for DUI last week. Fortunately, no one was injured, though the house and the truck will need a lot of repair.

truck-hits-house

Image: Moses Lake Police Dept. Facebook Page

The Moses Lake Police Department documented the incident with a bit of dry humor on their Facebook page, noting, “In our experience with these situations, the house is rarely at fault.”

So the driver, and not the house, will have to face the consequences of a Washington DUI, which includes an ignition interlock requirement, even for a first offense.  There is a minimum fine of $940, which could go as high as $5,000, as well as probation. If this is not the driver’s first offense, the penalties go much higher.

Amusing as the Facebook comment is, let’s remember that if the house is rarely at fault, neither are the people inside the house. They might have been severely injured or killed if the pickup had been going faster. It’s sad to note, but you might not even be safe from drunk drivers inside your own home.

A Millionaire’s Blood Feud with Florida Court Ends in Defeat

blood-test-for-alcoholA millionaire who is now in prison for DUI manslaughter recently tried to challenge Florida’s methods of collecting and testing blood for alcohol levels. It did not go well for him.

John Goodman, who was convicted in 2014 for DUI manslaughter, is serving a 16-year prison sentence. His lawyers recently challenged the rule that forced him to give a blood sample after the crash.

The defendant’s attorneys argued that people who were tested had no opportunity to ensure that the blood samples were collected in a reliable way. There are no guidelines for the type of needle that is used, for example.

The argument didn’t wash. The Florida Supreme court found that only medical experts collect blood, and standard laboratory practices are already in place to ensure that testing is accurate.

Blood Test for Alcohol Levels – Reliable Evidence

Breath tests give a good indication of a suspect’s intoxication, but a blood test for alcohol gives a 100 percent accurate and therefore uncontestable result. That is why blood tests are sought after by the prosecution (and the defense, when they are confident that a suspect was not impaired).

Calling the accuracy of blood tests into question might have endangered many cases that rely on them for evidence. But that is not going to happen anytime soon. Blood tests for alcohol levels remain a vital element of DUI prosecutions in Florida and elsewhere.

What Good Is a Designated Driver Who Drinks?

designated-driverThere is only one rule that a designated driver has to follow, but it’s a crucial one: do not drink. You’d think that it would be obvious, but a surprising number of so-called designated drivers end up in handcuffs.

It happened recently in Riverside, California. A police officer saw a Volkswagen doing 57 in a 30 mph zone. As it turned out, the speeder was also a drinker, with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .182, more than twice the legal limit. As per the law, his car was impounded.

The driver had been the designated driver for his 3 passengers. Why did he drink?

One possible explanation is that he thought that a designated driver meant someone who drank less than his passengers. This is a common mistake. In fact, to be worthy of the name, a designated driver should stay off the booze entirely.

Perhaps he had “just one drink,” and the diminished judgement from that led to a second drink. That’s the procession that leads to a DUI.

When you agree to be a designated driver and you drink, you’re not just letting down your friends – you’re endangering them. If you’ve agreed to do the job for the evening, take it as a matter of trust. Do the right thing and stick with soft drinks. You’ll wake up the next day still having friends, your freedom – and your vehicle.

Scary: Florida Man Drove Child to School While Drunk

florida-dui-child-endangerment

The man was driving recklessly enough that the 911 line was swamped with calls. They were telling the operators that a man was running off the road, that he almost hit other cars head on.

One caller had an even more chilling report: there was a child in the car, and the boy was afraid.

As it turned out, the driver managed to drop the child off at a Fruitland Park school, and then stopped and fell asleep at the wheel. That might have been the end of the danger, but there was one more scare left in the man. When officers tapped on the window glass, the man woke up, stepped on the gas and drove into a fence.

There’s lots to terrify anyone here. Possible head-on collisions. An unexpected charge into a fence  – what if someone had been in front of the car then? And worst of all, the presence of a child.

The driver, Christopher Beauchemin, was found to have a blood alcohol level of .233, about three times the legal .08 limit. That is a massively debilitating amount of alcohol, rendering a person totally incapable of piloting a car. At that level vision is impaired, and concentration is so poor that a car will continually veer off the road as the driver’s attention waivers.

Is Florida Tough Enough on Child Endangerment?

Driving drunk with a minor is a uniquely cruel and reckless act. Children depend on adults for security and guidance. This kind of child endangerment is a betrayal of trust as well as an overtly criminal act.

At present, Florida does indeed punish DUI offenders who are caught with minors in the vehicle. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which has rated all the states for their anti-drunk-driving measures, would like to see those punishments increase. Endangering a minor while driving impaired should be a felony, the organization says. According to MADD, only 7 states currently treat this crime as a felony. More information about the states’ ratings can be found in the 2018 Report to the Nation.

800-499-0994