The Atlanta DUI News Blog

December 2010 Archives

This New Year's Eve, those who decide to go out drinking have a variety of portable, self-administered breathalyzer tests at their disposal. While it's best to use public transit, take a cab or have a designated driver, some might attempt to hover just below the 0.08 percent limit with one of these gadgets.

But before risking fines, jail time or worse, perhaps those who plan to rely on them should be asking just how accurate they are.

Fox News' Cleveland affiliate looked into some of these popular new breathalyzer tests to see just how reliable they are.

If you plan to head out for this evening's New Year's Eve festivities, you're likely to see at least one sobriety checkpoint on the way to your destination. They basically consist of police roadblocks along city thoroughfares, whereby motorists are randomly stopped and evaluated for signs of impairment.

But do they actually work?

The American Beverage Institute, which lobbies on behalf of restaurants that serve alcohol, would like to see an end to sobriety checkpoints, according to a Reuters article.

If the risk of getting arrested or dying in a traffic accident weren't enough of a deterrent against drunk driving, perhaps this is: Instances of sudden instant death syndrome (SIDS) increase by 33 percent on January 1, ABC News reported, leading researchers to believe alcohol may be a factor in unexplained infant deaths.

The startling conclusion comes from a recent issue of the medical journal Addiction, which also found that the children of alcohol-consuming mothers are significantly more likely to die from SIDS than children of non-drinking mothers.

SIDS is a term given to the sudden but unexplained death of infants, the leading cause of death among children aged 1 to 12 months.

While high-profile campaigns against impaired driving are common this time of year, sometimes it's best to hear about the aftermath of making such poor decisions from someone with first-hand experience. Judge Brad Brownlow, who has been the municipal judge in Loganville for 30 years, recalls his years as an Atlanta DUI attorney in a recent Walton Tribune article.

He said his more than 33 years defending clients against DUI and other criminal charges has clued him into the ruinous effects of drunk driving, especially when someone is injured or killed.

New analysis from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety confirming a spike in booze-related traffic deaths on New Year's, covered by The New York Times, is not exactly a news flash. But the magnitude of that increased death rate may surprise you.

The report found that the number of deaths from alcohol-related crashes on New Year's Day is nearly 150 percent higher than the average for the same day of the week during the winter holidays.

By now it should be no secret that police plan to increase their numbers on Georgia's streets on New Year's Eve. Authorities in Savannah, a city that has had more than its fair share of DUI problems, also will be scouring bars and liquor stores to enforce the city's alcohol ordinance, the Savannah Morning News reported.

The Alcohol Beverage Control Team, made up of Savannah revenue marshals, fire marshals and city police officers, will be enforcing underage drinking laws and making sure bar patrons are not over-served.

Sergio Kindle, the rookie linebacker for the National Football League's Baltimore Ravens, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, the Baltimore Sun reported. He reportedly had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.17 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

This has been a tough first season for Sergio Kindle, who suffered a skull fracture after falling down a flight of stairs just days before the start of the preseason.

He was stopped just after 4 a.m. last Sunday by an officer who said he witnessed his car weaving. Police said he smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes, and then told the officer he had "had a few drinks."

Emily Clines, executive director of the Georgia chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, wrote in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution opinion column her desire for tougher drunk driving laws in the state. MADD's tireless campaigns against impaired driving are nothing new; but she provides some context for why she believes lawmakers aren't doing enough.

Citing undocumented estimates, she said drunk driving collisions cost each Georgia citizen $500 a year, which includes higher insurance premiums, the cost of enforcement and legal expenses. Of course, the biggest costs come in the form of serious injuries and fatalities.

New York mother Ana Rios was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI, equivalent to a DUI in Georgia) after crashing her Chevrolet Trailblazer SUV into two parked cars, the Long Island Press. But the bigger story is the fact that her three children were in the vehicle at the time of the collision.

A Suffolk County (New York) deputy sheriff pulled her over after witnessing front-end damage to her vehicle. The crash reportedly happened at 4:30 a.m. last week.

Research by David Goldman at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Maryland found that a mutation that blocks a particular gene may lead to highly impulsive behavior in individuals under the influence of alcohol, according to United Press International.

He found that the HTR2B genetic variant was predictive of highly impulsive behavior but that other factors are involved:

"Carriers of the HTR2B variant who had committed impulsive crimes were male, and all had become violent only while drunk from alcohol, which itself leads to behavioral disinhibition."

Perhaps it's a given that police everywhere will be extra vigilant during the holidays as they look for impaired drivers. But consider this a fair warning: Coweta County Sheriff's traffic unit and the Georgia State patrol plan to saturate the area with checkpoints and patrols until the New Year, according to the Newnan Times-Herald.

There have been 14 traffic deaths in Coweta County so far this year, compared to eight total last year and 12 in 2008. Lt. John LaChance of the Coweta County Sheriff's Office said he plans to do whatever it takes to prevent that number from rising.

The New York Daily News reported that 73-year-old Ron DiMenna, founder of popular Florida-based surf shop chain Ron Jon, has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Police stopped him for reckless driving after reportedly downing several Four Loko caffeinated alcoholic drinks.

Brevard County (Florida) police claim the surf shop icon was stumbling and slurring his speech when he was "yanked" out of his pickup truck. Police had responded to a 911 call placed by another motorist who witnessed his truck weaving in and out of traffic.

Most people know what a designated driver is by now, usually a friend who agrees to remain sober during a raucous outing so that the rest of the group can imbibe freely, knowing they have a safe ride home. But on New Year's Eve or other holiday parties, who wants to be that person?

That's the rationale behind the growing industry of professional designated driver services, in which a hired hand safely drives partiers home, as explained in a Chicago Tribune column earlier this month.

The Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety officially launched its Zero Tolerance campaign to combat impaired driving during the winter holiday season, according to NBC's Savannah affiliate WSAV.

Bob Dallas from the GOHS praised the state's recent efforts at stopping drunk drivers, including sobriety checkpoints, at a recent press conference:

"Georgia has done an excellent job getting drunks off the road, just this past week the National Highway Traffic Safety administration issued a report ranking Georgia fourth in the nation."

Georgia is one of just few states that still restrict the sale of alcohol on Sundays, although some outspoken opponents of so-called "blue laws" want the Peach State to change course, including an opinion column in the Macon Telegraph arguing that the increased tax revenue would help the state.

The following statement sums up the general sentiments of op-ed writer Jeremy L. Williams:

The prohibition is an antiquated policy kept in place by the zealous campaigning of special interest groups and is magnifying the economic woes felt by the majority of the state's citizens.

Attorney's bills, fines and court fees should provide enough incentive to motorists to steer clear of a DUI conviction. Then there are other negative consequences pertaining to an impaired driving offense that are not as easily quantified but no less devastating, as an article in The Augusta Chronicle explained.

To give just a couple examples, DUI convictions can derail a medical professional's career, while army officers can lose their commission and soldiers risk being barred from re-enlistment. And that's not the worst of it.

Exposure of youth to TV alcohol ads jumped 71 percent from 2001 to 2009, according to a report by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This is more than the exposure of adults 21 and over, according to report's executive summary.

The increase in distilled liquor product advertising on cable TV accounted for much of this increase. Curiously, the majority of this exposure took place during programming more likely to be viewed by minors than adults 21 and older.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell was rear-ended by a suspected drunk driver last Thursday evening. The driver, Raleigh Burton, was charged with DUI and following too closely, according to Capt. Tina Daniel.

Raleigh Burton struck Eldrin Bell's vehicle near a sobriety checkpoint set up by Clayton police, she added:

"This guy happened to pull out and run into Chairman Bell, and they ended up pulling him over, and he ended up being drunk... [He] just had a bad night."

Marietta-based company Try Safety First Inc. has unveiled a new device that prevents cell phones from sending text messages or emails while the car is in motion, the Somerset County Daily American (Pennsylvania) reported. Now the two-year-old company is lobbying Congress to require the device in newly produced cell phones.

Called the Owner Compliance Key, the tiny device would disable texting and emailing functions whenever the phone is within one meter of the driver's seat once the vehicle is shifted out of park. Passengers still would have access to texting and emailing, CEO John Fischer said.

Soon Kwon is facing vehicular homicide charges in connection with an accident that resulted in two deaths and severe injuries of three others, the Gwinnett Daily Post reported. Soon Kwon was not arrested at the scene because he needed medical attention but arrest warrants were issued.

The 22-year-old man was driving his Lexus on Steve Reynolds Boulevard shortly after 3:30 a.m. Sunday when he allegedly sideswiped the Kia Forte driven by 23-year-old Gho Lee. He then crossed the center line and collided head-on with another car.

Yet another public effort to combat impaired driving, the U.S. Department of Transportation's annual "Drunk Driving. Over The Limit. Under Arrest" campaign, was launched, according to the web site ConsumerAffairs.com. The campaign involves a partnership between the DOT and thousands of U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also took the opportunity to promote the "No Refusal" strategy to discourage allegedly impaired motorists from side stepping sobriety tests.

Coloma (Michigan) Community School bus driver Jennifer Moore posted $5,000 bond after spending three nights in jail for allegedly driving drunk with 36 honors students on board, WNDU News reported. But since she was arrested for a DUI in Georgia in 2007, she should never have been hired in the first place, according to a Michigan law.

Jennifer Moore had been driving for the school for six months before fingerprint results tied her to the Georgia arrest. She was hired in September 2009, before the district had completed all state-mandated background checks and other requirements.

Abuse of prescription drugs, typically painkillers and muscle relaxers, is growing rapidly and is second only to marijuana in rate of abuse, according to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cited by The Augusta Chronicle (via Behavioral Health Central).

The article focuses on how the trend is playing out in Augusta. Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Robert Partain, who oversees the department's narcotics division, said he now has an officer dedicated to prescription drug abuse:

"It's always been here, but it seems like in the last two or three years it's just gotten out of hand and it's increasing more and more."

JK Crews, a Georgia State Patrol Nighthawk trooper, told Savannah Now reporters that Chatham County needs much more DUI enforcement than other counties. By way of comparison, the Nighthawk patrol arrested 710 people in Chatham County for DUI in the past year but only 271 in Bulloch County during the same period.

Statewide, the unit has made 992 arrests between Nov. 16, 2009 and Nov. 30 of this year. Of those, he said 150 cases involved motorists suspected of driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol.

It looks like a nationwide New Year's resolution is called for, if the results of a new survey on drunk driving are accurate. On average, 30 million Americans drive drunk annually, according to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) cited by CBS News.

The timing of the survey's results is significant, since the winter holiday season tends to see an uptick in drunk driving incidents and December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month.

Honesty is a noble virtue in most situations but it's almost never in one's best interests to get too chatty with a police officer who has stopped you on suspicion of driving under the influence. For example, don't do what police say Alpharetta motorist Marie White did recently, as reported by the news site NorthFulton.com.

While the officer was showing the 44-year-old Arrowood Court resident how to do the heel-to-toe test during a field sobriety check, she alleged gave herself away by asking the following:

"Is it going to be a really long heel-to-toe? Because I can't even do this sober."

Regular readers of this blog know that driving under the influence of even legally prescribed and consumed pharmaceuticals still can lead to an impaired driving charge. Prescriptions that may impair driving skills usually are labeled as such but ultimately it's the motorist's responsibility to use caution.

It gets really complicated when multiple medications are taken and cause unforeseen side effects when combined, according to Albany-area pharmacist Charles Rouse, who was quoted by southwest Georgia's Fox affiliate.

University of Georgia student newspaper The Red & Black reported that its editor in chief, Daniel Burnett, resigned after he was escorted from a football game for alleged intoxication. He had been invited to the stadium's President's Box, where Governor Sonny Perdue and Governor-elect Nathan Deal also were present.

Might Daniel Burnett one day look back on this experience as a potentially life-saving wake-up call?

Gregory Armwood of Covington pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of vehicular homicide, after admitting to illegally passing a bus and fatally striking 6-year-old Suk Maya Mager last year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was sentenced to just 30 days in jail and one year probation.

But while Judge Alvin T. Wong acknowledged that "this is one of those cases where nobody wins," it raises questions of whether he should have been driving at all. Gregory Armwood had been cited for DUI, running stop signs and red lights and excessive speeding before, according to Creative Loafing Atlanta.

Students at Dalton High School were paid a visit by members of the Dalton Police Department's Traffic Enforcement Unit, who talked to them about the dangers of texting and driving, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen. The teens even got the opportunity to find out for themselves how distracting it can be.

Students were invited to navigate a golf cart through a series of safety cones while texting on a cell phone in an attempt to demonstrate its similarities to driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Mark Watson, a 41-year-old Oklahoma man who was being arraigned on charges of DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, driving with a suspended license and assault on a police officer, allegedly fell down drunk right in front of the judge, according to KWTV News.

Sheriff's deputies reportedly picked him up, gave him a breathalyzer test (which he allegedly failed) and then rearrested him.

A probable cause affidavit filed with the Washington County (Oklahoma) District Court provides plenty of cringe-inducing reporting on Mark Watson's initial arrest at 2:28 a.m. on Dec. 5 (PDF).

While most of the news surrounding alcoholic energy drinks such as Four Loko has to do with concerns over its high alcoholic content and tendency to mask impairment, a study found that consumption of such drinks can increase the risk of alcohol dependence, according to a WebMD article.

The study's findings appeared in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and compiled data from more than 1,000 college students. Those who consumed energy drinks at least once a week were found to be more than twice as likely as non-users to develop alcoholism.

Driving under the influence of diabetes? While it's highly unlikely that East Palo Alto, California resident Juan Manuel Quezada's diabetes was the sole reason for his recent series of car crashes, the San Jose Mercury News reported that authorities have not ruled it out.

His troubles began after he allegedly backed his truck into the car belonging to the man who had just previously sold him a cell phone in downtown Palo Alto. Police said he would go on to crash into "several" other vehicles; just missing pedestrians and bicyclists.

A man from Gulf Shores, Alabama who stole a Berrydale Fire Department vehicle on Nov. 27 was arrested and charged with DUI, according to the Atmore Advance. He also has charges pending in Florida in the case and reportedly had arrest warrants in Georgia as well.

Lester Randolph Pugh Jr., 32, is now being held in the Escambia County (Florida) jail on $5,000 bond.

Kenny Brazile, East Brewton's Police Chief, said his department got a call from a civilian about an erratically driven vehicle on US Hwy. 41, north of the Alabama/Florida state line:

The most recent statistics show that older drivers are not involved in more crashes than other age groups, the Rome News-Tribune reported. But there is still concern among the public and some law enforcement officials that older drivers pose a greater risk on the roads.

Cpl. Greg Beck, with the Floyd County Police Department, doesn't dispute the statistics. But he told reporters that often they are on heavy medications that sometimes make them just as impaired as a typical DUI offender:

"It's like when a diabetic doesn't take their insulin. They can be just as impaired as someone who is drunk or who is high on drugs. An impairment is an impairment."

In an attempt to provide even less of an incentive to drive on Georgia's streets while impaired this holiday season, the "Tow to Go" program is offering free cab rides home for the inebriated, Savannah NBC affiliate WSAV reported. The program is sponsored by AAA Auto Club South and Anheuser-Busch.

The popular auto club claims the "Tow to Go" program has kept at least 11,650 potential drunk drivers off the roads since its inception 12 years ago. Services are offered in Florida and much of Tennessee, in addition to Georgia.

In what is being described as a first for the state of New Jersey, Kenneth Verpent was convicted of a DWI (driving while intoxicated) even though we was stone cold sober at the time, as reported by The Hackensack Record. He faces a sentence of up to five years in prison.

So why was he convicted if he wasn't impaired? He tested positive for cocaine and admitted to having used the drug the night before. Tests for cocaine impairment were negative but assistant Bergen County prosecutor Deepa Jacobs successfully argued that the "cocaine hangover" was indeed a kind of impairment.

Former New York Yankees catcher Jim Leyritz, perhaps best known for hitting a key home run in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, was sentenced to one year of probation, a $500 fine and a six-month license suspension, according to CNN.

He could have faced as much as 15 years in prison for the 2007 DUI that claimed the life of 30-year-old Fredia Veitch. But he was acquitted of DUI manslaughter charges, mostly because it wasn't clear if he was drunk at the time or whether the victim also was partially at fault.

December is designated National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, for good reason. December typically sees a spike in alcohol use, considering winter holidays and especially New Year's Eve, which unfortunately causes an increase in drunk driving during the month.

Consider the statistics, which make a fairly solid case that drunk and drugged driving remains a serious problem:

Alcoholic Whipped Cream Causes Concern

Next time someone hands you a slice of pie at a holiday party, you might want to ask if it could get you drunk. NBC New York reported on the release of various brands of alcohol-infused whipped cream, including one called Whipped Lightning. I didn't know there was a market for such a product, but apparently the boozy dessert topping is a hit.

There are other brands from other companies, including Cream and Whip-Ahol, but Whipped Lightning is becoming the face of alcoholic whipped cream just as Four Loko became the most-recognized brand of alcoholic energy drink.

In a quite unusual case from Missouri, motorist Thomas Drummond was acquitted of DWI (driving while intoxicated) charges even though he was definitely drunk when his car was found stranded in a ditch, Reuters reported. He was arrested at the scene and charged with drunk driving but claims he wasn't drunk when his car went off the pavement.

His defense? Thomas Drummond claims he decided to sip a bottle of brandy he had bought for a party to keep warm, since his car had veered into a ditch at around midnight.

Roughly one in five (18 percent, to be exact) motorists killed last year in car crashes tested positive for drugs, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cited by the Associated Press. The tests included both legal and illegal drugs but excluded aspirin and nicotine.

But the test didn't determine whether the drugs were a factor in the crashes, nor did it consider whether the motorist was in fact under the influence of a given drug at the time of the crash. Marijuana, for example, stays in the system for as much as a month after use, even if it doesn't cause impairment.

Port Wentworth police department, which garnered both national and state recognition for its effective DUI patrol tactics, began its holiday sobriety checkpoints and saturation operations the day before Thanksgiving, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Aggressive patrolling tactics and the use of cutting edge technology are the main ingredients of their success. Sgt. Lee Sherrod, who said "no violation is too minor," pointed out how minor violations often lead to DUI arrests:

"A lot of officers don't stop for minor violations like faulty tag lights, headlights, or if they touch the line once or twice. But we're going to stop you and check."

Grammy Award winner Faith Evans pleaded no contest to misdemeanor DUI charges earlier this week, the Baltimore Sun reported. She was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving on August 21 at a sobriety checkpoint near Marina del Rey in Southern California.

The 37-year-old singer's car was impounded following her arrest and she was released from jail the following morning without incident.