JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -One person who chooses to drink and drive can change or ruin countless lives. Unfortunately, not all impaired people behind the wheel will get caught. But you can be your neighborhood law enforcement is training to catch everyone they can. Officers from around the region recently took part in an advanced DUI training course at Florida Highway Patrol headquarters to help put the brakes on impaired driving.
Senseless deaths like that of St. Johns County Deputy James Anderson, who killed was by a drunk driver going the wrong way, happen all too often.
“The part that’s frustrating for us is the fact that it’s 100% preventable,” said FHP Sgt. Dylan Bryan.
But time and time again, people choose to drink and crank the engine.
“What’s most disturbing for me is when it involves children,” said Bryan. “They don’t have a choice. They’re along for the ride so-to-speak. So they’re acting at the discretion of their legal guardians or parents and these adults are making poor choices and putting the child’s life in jeopardy.”
“There’s no easy way to tell a family that their loved one isn’t coming home,” added St. Johns County Crpl. Dave Rosado.
It was shriek after shriek Rosado says he heard in living rooms, after telling mothers they’ve lost their children, or husbands their wives were dead. He decided to do something about it; teach an advanced DUI training course to help officers hone their skills. His helpers are people under the influence.
“I could not operate a vehicle right now,” slurred Shavon Boatwright, one of four volunteers troopers “dosed” for the course.
The “dosees” were given a certain amount of alcohol over the course of three hours, along with light snacks. One person for example, was given three ounces of liquor at 10 a.m., another 3 ounces 45 minutes later, and four more ounces around noon.
The measurements are taken every hour, by dosees blowing into a Breathalyzer. This particular volunteer blew .094, over the .08 legal limit.
Boatwright is also just over the legal limit, which allows officers to study his behavior.
“Actually having them smell the alcohol on these people, actually physically seeing them and performing the exercises, then giving the orders and instructions of how to do the field sobriety exercises, I think it’s better,” explained Rosado. “You actually see it in person rather than on a video screen.”
Volunteers, all with a blood alcohol content right around .08, are instructed to follow the student’s finger, balance on one leg, and take nine heel-to-toe steps. Boatwright had trouble.
“Walking in a straight line, holding your foot out, doing an eye test, it opens your mind up a little bit and see that when you think you can function, you really can’t,” he said.
But even drivers under the legal limit aren’t in the clear.
“One can be under the influence, or intoxicated, at a level below .08 and still get a DUI,” said Bryan.
As we know the state’s legal limit is .08. Somebody does not have to be at a .08 to be impaired,” added Rosado. “You have have somebody who doesn’t drunk a lot or we call a ‘lightweight.’ they can be at .05 and be impaired.”
That was evident with one of the volunteers. Giovanni Ocampo blew just under the legal limit but troopers say they still would have arrested him based on his field sobriety performance.
“At that moment, you don’t think it’s to help you, but at the end of the day, it’s to help you make sure you’re not a danger to everybody else on the road,” said Ocampo.
“Most of the excuses we get on the roadside are, ‘I drink to feel a buzz.’ And what’s really important about that is buzz driving is drunk driving because in itself, you’re admitting to yourself, that if you feel a buzz, you are under the influence of alcohol,” said Bryan.
“It catches up to you pretty quick,” explained Ocampo.
“When you think you’ve had one drink and you think you might be okay to drive, you’re really not,” Boatwright added.
Officers can go through this type of specialized training, set up DUI checkpoints, and contribute to public service announcements. But Rosado says what it’s really going to take, is people making the choice not to drink and drive so children like Anderson’s don’t have to bury their dad.
“It’s going to start with the people,” he said “They’ve got to make better decisions. That’s all there is to it.”
We spoke to DUI attorneys about drivers getting arrested even convicted for DUI when they’re under the legal limit. Attorney David Robbins says it’s “a shame, a crime, and is based on an officer’s opinion.” He says you could take a urine sample, be arrested, and then two to three months later, when FDLE releases the results, they’re negative. Robbins say the field sobriety test is “failure-based” and “voo-doo.” He says the exercises were not designed to determine if a driver is drunk, they were designed as neurology exams, to study the brain.