06/03/07 — Law officers conduct DWI checkpoints around the city

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Law officers conduct DWI checkpoints around the city

By Lee Williams
Published in News on June 3, 2007 2:01 AM

Nearly three dozen officers from the Goldsboro Police Department, Wayne County Sheriff's Office and State Highway Patrol took to the streets early Saturday to shine the spotlight on drunken drivers.

Armed with a mobile alcohol testing site called the BAT Mobile, officers operated DWI checkpoints on Ash Street, Elm Street and Spence Avenue from midnight until 4 a.m.

One by one, drivers navigated through a sea of orange cones and a row of law enforcement officers. Police checked driver's licenses, seat belts and license tags. They also checked for alcohol impairment.

Many drivers seemed happy to comply. Others appeared irritated at the stop.

A few tried to drive through the checkpoint without stopping. Others saw the checkpoint and turned around -- only to be met by a pursuing patrol car, flashing blue lights and an officer to redirect them.

Goldsboro Police Capt. Mike West organized the DWI crusade, which was held during the two-week Click It or Ticket seat belt enforcement campaign.

Goldsboro police Capt. John Biggins, a veteran officer with 21 years of service under his belt, said DWI checkpoints are important.

"We can observe more vehicles on a DWI checkpoint," he said. "When you're answering calls, it's kind of hard to observe vehicles."

In less than 10 minutes after officers set up checkpoints, police had their first suspected drunken drivers in custody. Judging by the elderly suspect's argumentative tone, he wasn't too thrilled.

As Officer A.D. Southerland placed a copy of his rights in his lap, the suspect shouted in protest.

"I can't read. I can't read without my glasses," he said.

Southerland responded, "OK. I'll read it to you."

The test used to determine the suspect's blood alcohol level was administered. It confirmed the officer's suspicion.

As Southerland filled out his arrest sheet, the suspect stated he was not going to sign it until he had a chance to talk to someone about it.

"That's fine," Southerland responded.

The suspect was then taken to the magistrate's office, which is also featured on the 32-foot BAT Mobile. He was granted bond, placed in a patrol car and taken to jail.

The BAT Mobile, which has a cell phone and three Intoxilyzer 5000's, is a key tool used to take drunken drivers off the streets.

The $225,000 vehicle paid for by a Governor's Highway Safety grant and maintained by the Forensic Tests for Alcohol Branch of the Department of Health and Human Services is among six in the state, said Craig Moss, BAT coordinator.

"It's fully-equipped with everything they need to operate a DWI checkpoint, and it's free to any law enforcement agency," he said.

The purpose of the BAT Mobile is to get a suspected drunken driver tested quickly and get the officer back on the road. The process used to detect drunken drivers at DWI checkpoints is simple.

"Every car that comes through the checkpoint, the officer carries on a conversation and asks them for their driver's license," said Moss, a former Wilson County sheriff's deputy.

The officer monitors the driver's demeanor and looks for signs of alcohol impairment. The smell of alcohol is potent. If consumed, it doesn't take long for an officer to detect a hint of alcohol on the driver.

"Once he observes an initial contact, that's a sign of impairment," he said. "Once they form an opinion they are impaired, they are placed under arrest."

Suspected drunken drivers are escorted into the BAT Mobile for an alcohol test. During the visit, they are given an implied consent form, which explains their rights. They also are given a 15-minute waiting period before they have to sign it.

Before the alcohol test is administered, the suspect is allowed to call an attorney for legal advice and call a witness.

"But, they have to be here within 30 minutes," Moss said.

The alcohol test is administered twice. The officer takes the lower of the second reading, Moss said.

The legal blood alcohol limit is .08, but a person could have a lower blood alcohol content and still be charged with DWI, police say

"If you weigh 105 pounds and you're blood alcohol level is .05 and you're stumbling around, you can be charged with DWI because you're impaired," Biggins said.

An officer would then have to make a case to a magistrate judge on why the suspect should be charged with DWI, Biggins said.

Moss said the DWI law is a two-pronged law.

"It's either impairment or a .08," he said.

The tricks some use to avoid detection like placing a penny under their tongue or eating mustard simply don't work, officials say.

Those charged with DWI automatically lose their driver's license for 30 days. After the 30-day period, offenders can pay a $50 fine to the Wayne County Clerk of Courts office to get their license back.

However, the penalty is stiff for those who refuse the alcohol test.

"If you refuse this test, you automatically lose your license for 13 months," he said.

Some people try to avoid using the Intoxilyzer 5000 by claiming to have asthma, one lung or some other breathing problem. Others pretend to blow lightly into the Intoxilyzer 5000 to avoid detection.

But despite the ploys, the Intoxilyzer 5000 is foolproof, officials say.

"We do a number of tests on all of the myths," Moss said. "Anybody that can blow their mouth can take this test. They only have to blow continuously for seven seconds to complete the test."

West noted a reduction in traffic during the DWI checkpoints, but he still hailed the event a success.

"Normally, we do it on U.S. 117 and U.S. 70, so you'll have the volume," he said. "This is the first one we've brought inside the city, but we've still yielded the same number of DWI arrests that we had on the highway."

During the checkpoints, officers rounded up a number of people who were wanted on other charges.

"It's still good because we're getting them off the streets," West said.

All told, officers issued 61 citations including four for driving while impaired, six seat belt violations, one for a drug violation, two for other criminal offenses, one for uninsured motorists, one for reckless and careless and 46 other traffic violations, according to the Goldsboro Police Department.