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January 2010 Archives

A Springfield man, 41-year-old Troy D. Bush was taken to Sangamon County Jail following an incident that led to charges of drunk driving (State Journal-Register).

Police say Bush fled from them and then crashed into a pair of trees last week at about 12:50 a.m., a popular time of night/morning for DUI arrests. Although it's from downstate, the alleged details of this case are quite entertaining.

A Grandview officer allegedly spotted a 1983 Ford car doing "cookies" (I have no idea what that means, but perhaps it's the same as doing "donuts") in the middle of the street. The officer then flashed on his lights but the driver allegedly sped away and initiated a chase.

Assuming the machine is properly serviced and calibrated, breathalyzer tests are fairly accurate. Blood draws are even more accurate, since they go straight to the source. Most DUI charges result in a guilty plea precisely because BAC tests are so difficult to challenge. 

But what about the infamous field sobriety test?

The evaluation seems very subjective, especially since the results are dependent upon the officer's judgment. Even so, the primary function of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test is not to collective conclusive evidence but rather to establish probable cause for arrest (NHTSA).

For all the attention texting while driving has gotten lately, including talk show maven Oprah Winfrey's campaign to stop drivers from using personal electronics in general, you might assume truck drivers would have better sense.

But then again, commercial truckers spend most of their lives behind the wheel and may be more tempted than the rest of us.

Effective immediately, drivers of commercial trucks and buses in the United States are prohibited from texting while driving (Refrigerated Transporter). US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced the new federal guidelines at a conference on distracted driving earlier this week.

A 20-year-old man was charged with a DUI after he drove his car through the garage of a random Wheeling house on Sunday morning (Tribune). 

The suspect, Wheeling resident Craig Brooks Jr., allegedly was drunk at 8:30 in the morning when he lost control of his Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV and drove right into the side of the garage. No one was in the house at the time and there were no cars inside the garage.

After the crash, police say, Brooks got out and fled the scene on foot, reportedly to a nearby apartment complex. Witnesses reported the incident and it took all of five minutes for police to pick him up.

A report compiled by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, made up of insurance companies, law enforcement and anti-drunk driving groups, gave Illinois generally high marks for its drunk driving and highway safety laws (ABC Chicago). 

But while the report gave most of the state's DUI laws a "green light," the teen driving category received an "amber," which could be loosely translated to "needs improvement."

A case recently decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court obviously does not establish precedent in Illinois, but it's a great example of the debate over whether sleeping in your car while drunk, with the engine off, constitutes drunk driving (StarTribune).

The Minnesota Supreme Court certainly thinks so, at least in the case of a man convicted on DWI (driving while intoxicated) charges, even though he was asleep in his parked car with the keys on the console. Justices based their decision on the conclusion that the defendant was in "physical control" of his car when he was arrested.

Physical control? Was he not making a wise decision by sleeping it off instead of driving?

It should just be common sense (although many of our laws are written for the least sensible among us), but driving drunk while your child is in the car is a horrible idea. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a minor on board can add an additional charge of child endangerment.

It also can be deadly.

Texting while driving is now against the law in the state of Illinois, as is surfing the web on your smart phone. Fair enough; is it so unreasonable to safely pull over to the side of the road if that text message simply cannot wait? And you can always just clip on your headset and make a phone call.

But what about GPS navigation (also known as "sat-nav"), which provides turn-by-turn directions with the help of satellite technology? The technology is designed to be used while driving, so any law restricting its use would be an outright ban, for all intents and purposes. 

Using a sat-nav system is still allowed under the new texting-while-driving law, but it's not clear whether that also includes navigation applications on iPhones or other high-end, GPS-enabled handsets (Tribune).

Fatal DUI Suspect Held on $100K Bail

Twenty-three-year-old motorist Matthew Talavera, charged with a DUI that allegedly resulted in the death of his friend, 24-year-old Richard Smart, is being held on $100,000 bail (Tribune). His Illinois DUI attorney pointed out that he has no criminal background and that the victim, sadly, was his "best friend."

Results of a breathalyzer test indicate that Talavera had a blood-alcohol concentration of more than 0.270 percent, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent (Tribune).

Popular Chicago-based talk show host Oprah Winfrey is lending her considerable influence to the fight against texting or talking on the phone while driving. She devoted a recent show to the subject.

A press release to fans on her web site starts off with statistics and then gets into personal stories of families impacted by texting-related tragedies, in the style of her long-running show (Oprah.com). 

Nearly half of Americans take at least one prescription drug, according to data released by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2004 (About.com). Not all of those medications cause impairment in drivers but many of them are just as dangerous as illicit drugs or cocktails.

In Illinois, as in any state, driving under the influence of a prescription drug can get you a DUI conviction just as if you were out binge drinking.

Much has been said about the distraction that comes with texting while driving, and some even say it's more dangerous than drunk driving (Times UK). A teenager quoted by an article in Mashable says it all:

"Yeah [my dad] drives like he's drunk. His phone is just like sitting in front of his face, and he puts his knees on the bottom of the steering wheel and tries to text."

As if that isn't frightening enough, the Illinois driver with the dubious distinction of being the first to receive a ticket under the state's new texting while driving law also was drunk at the time (Tribune). Des Plaines-based Terry Moore was pulled over after an officer saw him weaving across the center line early in the morning on Jan. 2.

Driving Under The Influence Of Drugs

Thanks to the reliable breathalyzer, the typical DUI is often an open and shut case. Implied consent laws mean that all drivers have consented to a BAC test and the results provide key evidence. Sure, there are ways to challenge the evidence, but usually on a technicality (i.e. the machine is overdue for a routine maintenance and accuracy check).

But drugs other than alcohol? Not as simple to prove, but Illinois police have their methods.

The case of a Lake County judge arrested for drunk driving nearly two years ago took an odd turn when Judge David Hall's Illinois DUI attorney, Douglas Zeit, argued that a videotape of the arrest was erased by cops (Tribune).

In addition to the DUI allegation, the judge was charged with resisting arrest. But without the tapes, evidence of the alleged resistance by Judge Hall is scant.

Illinois Dramshop Act And DUI Liability

A case from downstate illustrates how drunk driving is not just the responsibility of those doing the drinking and driving, but also those serving the drinks (News-Democrat).

A Jersey County jury awarded the family of a woman killed in a motorcycle accident $549,954 in accordance with Illinois' Dramshop Act, which holds bars (or liquor stores) responsible for not cutting off patrons who have had too much to drink and then operate a motor vehicle.

With a little help from the US Dept. of Transportation, a new organization called FocusDriven hopes to get everyone's attention about the dangers of driving while distracted, which researchers claim can be just as deadly as driving drunk (Distraction.gov).

But while earlier campaigns against in-car cell phone use focused more on the act of holding the phone to one's ear, FocusDriven hopes to convince people to hang it up completely while driving:

"Whether texting, using hands-free or handheld phones, these drivers not only put their lives on the line, but they risk killing others on the road. "

In-Car Breathalyzers: A Primer

Only four states mandate the installation of in-car "interlock" breathalyzers for first-time drunk driving convictions and Illinois is one of them (enacted on Jan. 1, 2009), along with New Mexico, Arizona and Louisiana.

The device serves as a lock between the driver and the car's ignition, requiring the breath of a sober driver as its key. The car won't start if the device registers a blood alcohol level above .05 percent. It also requires periodic breath samples throughout the trip to ensure that someone else hasn't blown into the device to start the car.

Police officers say they were forced to fire at possibly drunk motorist Dan Mojziszek (ABC Chicago) in self defense when he allegedly tried to run them over with his car. His surviving family members, however, beg to differ and say they plan to file a lawsuit against the department (ABC Chicago).

Mojziszek, 53, was driving on a revoked license and had a long history of DUI convictions throughout the Chicagoland area. Franklin Park police pursued Mojziszek after witnessing his allegedly erratic driving, a witness told reporters:

"Definitely not something you see every day," said Nick Chrysler, witness. "He was obviously swerving and stuff like he had been drinking."

Officers say he ignored warnings from the loudspeaker to stop and get out of his car and instead tried to ram his car into the police. Fearing for their safety, officers claim, they got out of their cars and fired several rounds into Mojziszek. But Chrysler wasn't able to corroborate their story.

Chicago cops are arrested for DUIs at a far lower rate than the general population, as might be expected. A Chicago Sun-Times article reports that while one in 125 Chicago drivers were arrested for a DUI in 2008, just one in 1,000 officers were arrested for drunk driving during the same period.

But high-profile bad behavior by drunk cops, most notably 250-pound Anthony Abbate's videotaped 2006 beating (Huffington Post) of a 125-pound female bartender, has pushed the issue to the forefront. Also, two off-duty Chicago-area officers were involved in fatal drunk-driving accidents last year.  

New five-year contracts introduces earlier this week would ban police lieutenants and captains from drinking four hours before duty, subject them to random alcohol testing and enforce automatic drug and alcohol testing whenever an officer discharges his or her weapon.

Teenager Pleads Guilty To Fatal DUI

It's not technically a plea bargain, since his so-called "blind" guilty plea was made without the benefit of a sentencing agreement. That means the prosecution has not yet agreed on a sentence for 18-year-old Kevin Schuh, who was charged with drunk driving in an accident that killed 15-year-old pedestrian Monika Skrzypkowski (Daily Herald).

Schuh pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated DUI causing an accident or death, failure to report an accident causing great bodily harm or death and making a false police report. Although he already has pleaded guilty, he could be sentenced to as many as 29 years in prison.

SR-22 Insurance For DUI Offenders

All drivers are required to carry liability insurance, more for the benefit of other drivers than the policyholders themselves. But once convicted of a DUI, insurers recognize such individuals as a high risk.

In short, motorists are likely to get dropped after getting a DUI and possibly treated like a pariah by many other potential insurers (a DUI conviction plus insurance cancellation raises a red flag).

So what do you do?

Chicago DUI lawyer Jennifer Wirth (FindLaw) offers an excellent summary of common myths on how to "beat" a breathalyzer test. A recent entry in Wirth's blog, Frontline DUI, highlights five such myths of avoiding detection for a DUI, such as placing a penny in your mouth, consuming something minty (like gum or an Altoid) or blowing gently on the tube.

Simply stated, none of these methods work if you're drunk.

B.S.-detector web site Snopes.com also debunks the myth of the penny or mint for avoiding detection by a breathalyzer test. The Snopes.com entry includes the following myth, suggesting a way to evade the breathalyzer:

"...the first thing he did was stuff a handful of pennies in his mouth and then spit them out as the officer approached the car. He said a short time later he was given a breathalyzer test because of the copper alloy residue (or whatever), the breathalyzer tester went bonkers and they couldn't get an accurate evaluation."

That just isn't possible.

Treatment for substance abuse, including that which is mandated by courts for DUI convictions, is widely considered a positive and cost-effective way to reduce repeat offenses. But many of Illinois' rehabilitation centers may be forced to shut down if the state fails to pay its bills (Chicago Public Radio). 

Treatment, though never guaranteed, costs an average of $2,700 per individual, according to Sara Moscato Howe, who works with the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association. Compare that with the $25,000 to $32,000 spent each year to incarcerate an individual (according to Howe), which also is no guarantee of rehabilitation.

Comparing those figures, and considering the fact that 69 percent of inmates are serving sentences for drug-related crimes (Illinois Dept. of Corrections), you'd think Illinois would put more money into rehabilitating drug and alcohol addicts. 

Aggravated DUI and reckless homicide charges have been filed (Tribune) against Ali Hosseini more than two years after he slammed his SUV into motorcyclist and Chicago architect Keith Kreinik. He initially survived the accident, was in a coma for several months, and then was in and out of various extended-care facilities.

His friend and fellow Harley-Davidson enthusiast, Bill Carter, recounts his condition after the crash and up until his death:

"He came out of the coma a few times. He was able to communicate a little, but there were complications, and he just never got better." 

Forty-seven-year-old Kreinik died from his severe injuries (Tribune) on Jan. 2.  

Imagine going out with your friends and throwing back several drinks to the point where you're feeling euphoric, dancing without a care and generally letting it all hang out. Nothing too out-of-the-ordinary about that, but let's assume you're unfit to drive. Now imagine taking a pill with water upon hearing the bartender yell out "Last call!" and suddenly feeling sober and able to drive.

As an added bonus, you wake up without the slightest hint of a hangover.

Sounds like pure, unadulterated baloney, right? Read on.

At more than four times the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration, most people would be on the verge of a coma and probably would have already passed out. 

But not 36-year-old Jennifer Gill (Post-Tribune), who witnesses say was weaving all over the road as she attempted to drive her two children to school at 8:30 a.m. The Valparaiso woman allegedly swerved her SUV "at least six to 10 times" before concerned citizens took action.

Never mind her near-fatal dose of alcohol, at least according to the breathalyzer results, the real story here is how three other motorists surrounded and eventually stopped her vehicle.

Some people just slur when they talk, sway when the walk or drive erratically without the benefit of alcohol. But rarely are all three behaviors present in a single motorist at the same time unless they're three sheets to the wind. Even if alcohol is not found, those are sure signs of some kind of impairment, right?

That's what a reasonable person might conclude from observing the behavior of one Billy L. Hires, who appealed his ninth DUI conviction on grounds that prosecutors didn't have sufficient evidence.

Don't Let A BUI Sink Your Ship

Pushing out into the frigid, turbulent depths of Lake Michigan in the dead of winter may not sound like much fun. But eventually the flowers and warmth of spring will summon Chicago boaters back onto the water.

Since recreational boating is, well, recreational, it may be more tempting to booze it up while out on the lake. But drunk boating is not much different than drunk driving.

United Airlines pilot Erwin Vermont was three times the legal limit of alcohol for airplane pilots (New York Daily News) when he was intercepted by authorities.

That's not to say his blood alcohol concentration was 0.24 percent, a truly frightening prospect, since pilots thankfully are held to a much lower threshold.

No, Washington had 31 micrograms of hooch per 100 milliliters of blood, which translates to just under 0.08 percent BAC. The legal limit for pilots is 9 micrograms per 100 milliliters, which about 0.02 percent and probably attainable by having just one moderately strong drink.

Alcohol affects different people in different ways and experts say hardcore alcoholics often have such built-up tolerance that they can hold more liquor than the average person. But most people lose consciousness once they hit a blood alcohol concentration of 0.30 percent (Q3 Innovations, citing several primary sources).

Just a drink or two shy of that, most people have trouble walking, suffer "total mental confusion" and probably are barfing.

So imagine driving through Chicago's streets at 3:30 a.m. with a BAC of 0.299 (Tribune), as 39-year-old Tomas Martinez allegedly did last week.

Former Blackhawks Star Scores DUI

He didn't hip-check the cop or throw any punches and it's actually just a garden-variety DUI case, but Chris Chelios is no ordinary Chicagoan. Chelios was arrested for drunk driving in suburban Westmont on Dec. 28 (Sun-Times).

The former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman lives in Bloomfield, Michigan, not Chicago. But he continues to play hockey with the Chicago Wolves, one of 29 teams in the second-tier American Hockey League.

Just weeks before the planned opening of his new restaurant with business partner and former Chicago Blackhawks player and coach Denis Savard, 22-year-old Nick Sord crashed his vehicle allegedly under the influence of alcohol (NBC Chicago), killing his 20-year-old ex-girlfriend.

Sord was charged with aggravated DUI and reckless homicide for the fatal accident that took place early morning on New Year's Eve. His blood alcohol concentration was 0.236, almost four times the legal limit.

In what critics call a highly political move, Gov. Pat Quinn returned 18 felony DUI convicts back to prison (Sun-Times) after a brief early release. Roughly 800 non-violent offenders were released from prison early under the governor's plan, intended to save the state roughly $5 million.

But not everyone agreed on the definition of "non-violent."

Sobriety checkpoints traditionally have a way of sneaking up on drivers, appearing up ahead only after it's too late to turn around. But the past 15 or so years of the Internet have proven that technology is much more nimble than even the most tricked-out police cruiser.

Now the mobile Internet, made ubiquitous by the recent explosion in Web-enabled smart phones, has allowed motorists to know where the checkpoints are well in advance.

Hindsight is 20/20 and the discovery process may shine more light on whether Kane County police had enough evidence to arrest 45-year-old Linda L. Knotts on DUI charges. People get away with driving under the influence all the time, but usually they pull into the driveway without incident and count their lucky stars for not getting arrested. 

But Knotts collided head-on with a Ford van driven by Marengo-based William McKenzie, killing him almost instantly, just 15 minutes after she was stopped and ticketed for reckless driving.

Can You Refuse A Breathalyzer?

In Illinois, as in most states, refusal to take a breathalyzer test results in an automatic suspension of your license for six months to one year. And if you are ultimately convicted of a DUI after refusing the test, you could face even stiffer penalties than if you had taken it.

But doesn't a chemical test -- be it a breathalyzer, urine or blood test -- violate your 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination?  Well, let's see...

It has been one year since the enactment of the state's Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID) Program (Illinois Secretary of State). More than 6,100 first-time DUI offenders have installed the devices since the law took hold in 2009 (Rockford Register Star). 

The 2009 law requires first-time offenders who still wish to drive to install (and pay for) the BAIID apparatus. The average cost is $100 for installation, plus a monthly rental fee of about $75, but the state will help indigent drivers pay for it (Illinois Secretary of State). 

Studies show that distracted driving, whether it's caused by a text conversation with a friend or an unruly child in the back seat, is sometimes just as dangerous as drunk driving. Illinois's ban on texting while driving begins in 2010, but even hands-free talking - on a bluetooth-enabled headset - isn't as safe as most people assume.

A study from the University of Utah claims drivers who drive while using their cell phones are "as bad as drunks."

While drivers who use cell phone hands-free headsets obviously are able to put both hands on the wheel, many of us drive with only one hand at the 12 o'clock position anyway.

And studies show that drivers who use hands-free headsets are only negligibly safer than those who hold a phone to their ears.

Although the whole purpose of revoking someone's license for a drunk driving conviction is meant to keep them off the road, it's merely a formality. Absent any physical barrier to an automobile, offenders can (and often do) get behind the wheel and offend again.

The breathalyzer interlock device helps prevent this but only to a degree.

Thirty-six-year-old Orland Park resident Gretchen Budde is one of countless examples (assuming that most of them are not caught nor counted). She was charged (Tribune) with a DUI and driving on a revoked licensed after an off-duty cop saw her driving erratically.