Volunteers help law officers learn to test for DUI

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 15, 2004

At 35 years old, I got drunk for the first time Wednesday. And Iwould have gone to jail had I been driving.

“I would have arrested you,” said Lance Scott, a traffic officerwith the Jackson Police Department.

Scott’s admission to me was a sobering thought after serving asa guinea pig for a law enforcement officer DUI field sobrietytraining class going on this week in Brookhaven.

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Scott is one of the instructors for the three-day class, held bythe Mississippi Law Enforcement Liaison Office (LELO). Followingthe class assignments, officers from the eight participatingagencies will have some field work to do and the certificationprocess can take up to 60 days to complete.

After drinking alcoholic beverages over a 2.5-hour periodWednesday, two other volunteers and I were administered fieldsobriety tests by class participants. The tests included being ableto walk nine steps in a straight line, holding one foot off theground until told to stop and following an officer’s finger duringan eye coordination exercise.

With a blood alcohol level of .085, I failed with flying colors.Scott said I was six for six in exhibiting clues for beingimpaired.

“All of it,” Scott said when asked what was my most tellingclue.

Scott said I had an alcohol odor, was unbalanced and my speechwas slurred. On the eye test, mine did not have smooth pursuit andthere was evidence of the onset of nystagmus, an involuntaryjerking of the eye.

The other jerking I felt during the test was in my knees. Theywobbled every time I was asked to hold my foot in the air or walkthe straight line.

I was trying to comply with the officers’ instructions and itsometimes felt like I was. In the back of my mind, though, I knew Iwasn’t.

Even before the field tests, I knew I was impaired.

I’ve long had an aversion to the smell of beer, and alcohol ingeneral has held no appeal for me. Therefore, my beverages ofchoice Wednesday were Jack Daniels country cocktails, which tastedlike little more than fruit punch.

Three of those equals two beers, I was told. I felt relaxedafter two and my face began to feel flushed after three.

While not out of control, I felt really uninhibited after sixdrinks, and I lost count of how many I’d had after that. I hadeight altogether.

“I’m not falling down, but I’m not straight up either,” I saidafter a third bathroom break during the drinking period.

After our drinking group was “cut off,” we were administeredIntoxilyzer tests to check our blood alcohol content (BAC.) Afourth member of our group became ill and was unable to continue tothe testing portion.

Drinking buddy Mike Campbell, who had 11 beers during the day,registered .148. Like me, he would have been arrested had he beenbehind the wheel.

“I figured I could handle more than that,” Campbell said.

Mike’s wife Polly, who had five beers, registered .068. Officerssaid she was impaired, but not above .08 limit and not enough to bearrested.

LELO Director Michael Vick said a common misconception among thepublic is that there is a “legal limit” in determining whether aperson is intoxicated.

“There is no legal limit. There’s an illegal limit; .08 is theillegal limit,” Vick said.

Vick said it is possible to be impaired and have a BAC of lessthan .08. Even doctor-prescribed medications in conjunction withalcoholic beverages can raise a person to the point of beingimpaired.

“If you’re impaired, you can go to jail for DUI. It doesn’tmatter what your BAC is,” Vick said.

Vick indicated there are no absolutes for gauging how much ittakes for a person to become impaired. Factors Vick mentionedinclude someone’s gender, weight, metabolism, type of drinkconsumed, and when he last ate.

“I know people who can drink three beers and be impaired,” Vicksaid.

Regarding people knowing their limit, Vick said getting to a BAClevel of .08 requires some effort by the drinker. He said it ismore than two glasses of wine at dinner or two beers while on thegolf course.

“When you get to .08, you didn’t get there by accident,” Vicksaid.