Citizens, officers drink to save lives

  • Friday, December 20, 2013

A.M. Sheehan/Journal Scene The BrAC breath analysis must read 0.00 at the beginning and at the end of the volunteers controlled drinking.

Photos

“Somewhere in the world it’s five o’clock…see!”

Jayme Reeves, 28, of Goose Creek holds up her phone giggling and shows everyone before sipping her Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey drink at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Summerville Fire Station 4.

Four others raise their glasses in salute to Reeves’ discovery.

A group of five cops and civilians sit in a row at the counter in the kitchen area of Station 4. They are drinking mixed drinks of vodka, whiskey and spiced rum. One has a beer chaser.

The drinkers are from Summerville Police, the Sheriff’s Office, Harleyville Police and two civilians.

Their bartender is PFC Brandon Hamby, Summerville Police Department.

In the other room a group of law enforcement officers representing South Carolina State Transport, Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office, Summerville Police Department, Goose Creek Police Department and Saluda Police Department are under the combined tutelage of SPD Instructor PFC Marc Bailey and SPD Lead Instructor PFC Antonio Gantt.

They are taking an advanced DUI detection class.

The drinkers in the other room are part of the “hands-on” Wet Lab – subjects on whom the students will practice what they have learned.

Not fun and games

In spite of the increasingly loud conversation and raucous laughter, the drinkers are in a tightly controlled environment.

Arriving around 8:30 a.m., they fill out paperwork, sign waivers and each write their name on a blue plastic cup. They then blow into a hand-held breath analyzer. They all blow 0.00.

They are given an ounce of hard liquor and mixer of their choice and the drinking begins. They must reach the legal limit or above by 11 a.m.

Every 15 minutes their Breath Alcohol Content (BrAC) is measured and carefully written down on their chart. For 10 minutes prior to the Breathalyzer being used, they cannot drink or put anything in their mouth so the Breathalyzer is not reading mouth alcohol as opposed to BrAC.

Their drink refills are timed and measured carefully.

Every so often, with an eye to the clock and the BrAC levels of each participant, a double shot will be put in the drinks and carefully noted on the charts.

Three times red cups are used indicating straight shots of liquor.

Anyone leaving the confined area is accompanied by a “control” officer. Bathroom trips, cigarette breaks, etc. This is to ensure that no one is drinking or ingesting anything outside of the controlled amounts.

Master Patrolman Phillip Kirkland of the North Charleston Police Department is in charge of administering the Breathalyzer and keeping track of each individual’s times. Dorchester County Sheriff’s deputy Sgt. Russ Conklin, traffic and director of the DCSO H.E.A.T. team, is responsible for maintaining each individual’s record.

Back in the classroom, Bailey and Gantt demonstrate the test for eye nystagmus. This is the best way to tell if someone is under the influence as “the eyes never lie,” they tell the class. When following the light or tip of a pen, pupils will move smoothly from right to left (horizontally) in most sober people. However, most everyone under the influence of alcohol, will have pupils that stutter their way right and left in jerky movements. They cannot control this and it is a key indicator to law enforcement that they are under the influence.

The instructors then move on to other components of the standard Field Sobriety Test (FST) such as walking with one foot directly in front of the other in a straight line, following specific directions, standing holding one leg straight out in front, etc. They have small cheat sheets to assist them with remembering the components of the test and verbiage to use when asking a subject to do a specific thing.

During a break, the officers from S.C. Transport, who deal with commercial vehicles, tell of finding more alcohol issues than drug issues with truck drivers. This training will enable them to do their jobs even better. The other officers are patrol officers who often work at night when DUI drivers are more frequent.

The drinkers all say they are participating because a “friend in law enforcement” asked them to. Some have friends and family in law enforcement and one has lost friends and family to drunk driving crashes.

The trainers thank them for taking time off from work to participate noting that only with volunteers like them are they able to train other officers.

Time to test

By now, the language in the drinking area has deteriorated exponentially with the rise in blood alcohol content. Music is now playing, silly jokes are being told and the drinkers are having a fine old time.

But it is time. Their BrAC levels have peaked, the highest is about 0.13. (The legal limit for driving is 0.08.)

The instructors divide the class into teams of two. They then each take a drinker, separate them throughout the fire station, and tell the class to start conducting FSTs.

The “drunks” are still louder than normal, and a bit silly, although they are perceptibly trying to be serious. They go through the myriad tests with varying degrees of success. One is stationed next to a wall, which is a good thing as she frequently uses it to stay balanced.

Results

Finally each team has tested each drinker. Everyone gathers back in the classroom. On the screen in front, the names of each drinker and each test is up on a blank chart. The trainees are polled for their results. How many indicators of DUI did they find per test? Would they arrest this individual?

Drinker 1 – yes (arrest) – actual BrAC: 0.110

Drinker 2 – yes (arrest) – actual BrAC: 0.086

Drinker 3 – yes (arrest) – actual BrAC: 0.13

Drinker 4 – No (arrest) – actual BrAC: 0.06

Drinker 5 – No/Yes (arrest) – actual BrAC: 0.00

A murmur courses through the classroom. The instructors laugh but quickly sober with a stern reminder. Those that said they would arrest Drinker 5 would have put an innocent person in jail.

“We always have one who doesn’t drink…you need to be sure of your results before you arrest someone.”

The “mystery drinker” as they call him, was known only to the instructors. Even the other drinkers didn’t catch on that he wasn’t actually drinking any alcohol.

Conklin then steps forward with another viewpoint. He tells the true story of a Florence deputy who, at the end of his shift, pulled a driver over. The driver pulled over in his own driveway. The deputy noted the smell of alcohol, glassy eyes and slurred speech of the driver. But the driver asked the deputy to “give him a break” because he was home and was going to bed. The deputy gave him a break and did not arrest him for DIU. The deputy went home and went to bed. About 30 minutes later, the drunk driver realized he was out of cigarettes, got in the car to “just drive down to the store for smokes.”

He drove head on into another car, killing its occupants. The drunk driver walked away without a scratch.

“That officer paid civilly and was almost charged criminally,” says Conklin. “He is no longer a deputy. The department paid heavily as well.”

He then goes on to tell an unbearable story of when he was a Folly Beach officer and was instructed to do a notification at 3 a.m. one morning. He had to notify a mother that one of her daughters was dead and the other barely hanging on. She needed to get to MUSC immediately and he would drive her there. On the way she tells him her youngest daughter was celebrating her graduation from USC. As a surprise she had flown her sister there from Germany. The girls were out “painting the town” but she hadn’t gone because today was the one-year anniversary of her son’s death in a drunk driving accident.

His message is to get it right and get them [DUIs] off the road.

Not over yet

The officers being trained have a day or so left of training. But the drinkers have quite a few hours left before they can go home.

First they are fed. Then they hang around until each blows 0.00. This may keep them there until early evening.

“It takes twice as long, if not longer, to sober up,” says Hamby.

This is why all the drinking had to finish by 11 a.m.

There are a selection of DVDs for them to watch as they slowly sober up. Once they blow 0.00, each will be driven home by an officer and they must sign a promissory that they will not drive until the next day.

The hangover is theirs to deal with.

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