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What’s New - November 2000

Legislative and Other News in the DUI Prevention Community

November 2000 Update 

Finally made it to the top! And drank your life away..  

A University of Michigan engineering student died this past Monday after celebrating his 21st birthday with 20 shots of scotch in 10 minutes, police said. Byung Soo Kim was blue and unconscious when he was found early Saturday. He died at a hospital, where he had been admitted with a blood-alcohol level of 0.39 percent, nearly four times the legal limit for driving, police said. Eleven friends had gathered in an apartment building Friday night to celebrate his birthday. Police said Kim was trying to down a shot for every year of his life but passed out after the 20th drink. Friends told investigators they put him in the back bedroom and when they checked on him an hour later, they discovered he was not breathing. The police stated because he was legally 21, there was no cause for investigation.

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Justice comes slow, but has finally been served.  

In Burlington, Vermont a man who seriously injured a University of Vermont student two years ago while driving drunk has been sentenced to serve three to 10 years in prison. Noah Greer, of Charlotte, had pleaded no contest to one count of drunken driving with serious bodily injury resulting. Greer was sentenced in Vermont District Court on this past Friday. Greer's car hit Megan Clothier on Sept. 11, 1998, while she was crossing Pearl Street. Clothier, now 23, suffered permanent brain damage and has problems with short-term memory as a result of being hit. It was Greer's second drunken-driving offense. His blood alcohol level was .109 percent at the time of the accident. The legal limit in Vermont is .08 percent.

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Goes to show you, not everyone is perfect!  

A Knoxville police officer resigned Tuesday when faced with termination after he allegedly smashed into the rear of a car while drunk on Cumberland Avenue, records show. James Aman, a 10-year veteran of the Knoxville Police Department, was told that the department was already planning to fire him after Internal Affairs found he had violated department policy.

Aman was allowed to use sick days and vacation time to extend his employment until Dec. 30 so he could take advantage of the city's employee assistance program. He will have no police powers during that time. Mr. Aman blamed his drinking on stress. According to the reports, Aman got off work at 7 a.m. Oct. 31 and went home. Aman spent time with his 15-year-old son during Halloween and dressed up as a soldier in camouflage and face paint. He said he took some Tylenol cold pills and drank some cough syrup while at home. Aman said he had a few mixed drinks at home and went about 10:30 p.m. to a bar called Banana Joe's. He said he only stayed a few minutes before leaving for Moose's Music Hall on Cumberland Avenue, and stated he only drank two beers. Police records show that at 1:42 a.m., Aman drove his 1994 Toyota 4x4 pickup truck into the rear of a compact car stopped for a traffic light on Cumberland Avenue at Volunteer Boulevard. The impact smashed the trunk of the 2000 Kia Sephia into the back seat and propelled the car at least 100 feet, records show. As the driver of the Sephia, Lawrence Brady, 29, and his passenger, 22-year-old Tiffany Turpin, both of Shaler Lane got out of the car, they saw the driver of the truck running away. They said the driver never checked on their welfare and didn't say a word before fleeing on foot, according to the Internal Affairs file. Brady, who had just bought the Sephia the week before, was treated at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center for injuries to his head and ankle. Turpin did not require medical treatment. A University of Tennessee police officer rushed to the crash and radioed another UT officer of the fleeing driver. University of Tennessee Officer Melissa Dilbeck said she encountered Aman a block from the crash but when she ordered him to stop, he just shook his head and ran away, records show.

Four blocks from the crash, Knoxville officer Larry Presnell drove up behind Aman on Highland Avenue. Presnell said before he could say anything, Aman placed his hands in the air and surrendered. Aman's face and clothing were bloody because his nose had been broken in the crash, so Presnell said he didn't at first recognize Aman as a fellow officer. Aman told Internal Affairs investigators he doesn't recall anything about the crash. Asked why he ran, he said, "I guess I was scared. I don't know." Presnell cited Aman with drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He refused to submit to an alcohol test. He is scheduled to be photographed and fingerprinted Nov. 16 at the Knox County Jail and has not appeared in court on the charges

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Putting the blame on the system for his drinking  

The city of Bradeton,Fla is being sued by a teen-age driver who was seriously injured in a traffic accident because he says a police officer failed to arrest him for drunken driving minutes before the crash.

Richard L. Garcia filed suit last week in Circuit Court, alleging that officers who found him at a 1999 disturbance told him to drive home. He crashed his car minutes later, rupturing his aorta.

"He's got a plastic aorta now. For a (teen-ager), that's pretty wicked," attorney Wade Thompson said. Garcia and his mother, Betty Hernandez, are seeking damages exceeding $15,000. They say Garcia's medical bills are nearing $100,000.

City officials have declined comment.

Police went to a home at 1:20 a.m. Feb. 9, 1999, after a man found Garcia climbing into his stepdaughter's window. She had apparently invited him in, a police report said.

Thompson said Garcia, then 16, was obviously drunk -- he stumbled, his car was parked cockeyed and numerous open beer cans were visible in the vehicle. But the officers let him drive away, he said.

"They walked him to his car and put him in," Thompson said. Bradenton officer Robert Semler made no mention in his report that Garcia was drunk. Semler later resigned from the department after admitting a crack cocaine habit.

A few minutes after Garcia drove from the girl's home, he failed to negotiate a curve and slammed into a tree. Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Rick Wells wrote in his report that Garcia had a strong alcohol smell and his eyes were bloodshot.

A later test found that Garcia's blood-alcohol level was double the legal limit for adults and almost 10 times the limit for minors. He later pleaded guilty to drunken driving and received one-year probation and a fine.

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No more phony blocks on road in Iron County , Utah  

By Brady Snyder
Deseret News staff writer

IRON COUNTY, Utah - A controversial police tactic, designed to help cops nab drivers toting or using drugs and alcohol on the road, has been temporarily shelved in Iron County but remains vibrant throughout the rest of the state.

If Iron County Attorney Scott M. Burns has his way, the surveillance maneuver, dubbed the "no-block roadblock," will remain on the shelf permanently.

Utah Highway Patrol troopers regularly conduct "no-block roadblocks" that consist of strategically placed officers and a sign set up along the highway shoulder. Sign messages reading "drug-sniffing dog ahead," or "narcotics officers, checkpoint up ahead," are the normal bait, UHP spokesman Chris Kramer said.

Troopers examine cars passing the sign and watch for drivers who behave suspiciously. Kramer cited obvious examples like flipping a U-turn or throwing things out a car window as reasons cars would be pulled over.

Other less blatant but still suspicious offenders are followed and are pulled over if they disobey any minor traffic law. Troopers then conduct a routine traffic stop, although they are often shadowed by a drug-sniffing canine while sidling up to a stopped vehicle.

"Those dogs can pick up any sign of drugs even when they're outside the car," Kramer said. If the dogs sniff something suspicious it gives troopers probable cause to rifle through the vehicle, he said.

Under Utah law police agencies must garner a judge's approval before conducting a roadblock. With a court setting specific guidelines including dates, duration and purpose for the traffic checks, agencies can use roadblocks. Burns says the UHP never receives court permission for "no-block roadblocks," making the resulting arrests illegal.

Kramer argues the signs don't constitute roadblocks but merely trick would-be drug users and dealers; thus his department doesn't need court approval.

"It's not a roadblock because we're not stopping traffic," he said.

Burns doesn't buy the argument.

"My concern is that this is an attempt to circumvent the statute, and if it is, I'm confident that an appellate court is not going to allow it to continue," he said.

Besides the potential violation of state law, Burns says, the process may infringe on constitutional rights involving search and seizure.

"The highway patrol has set forth a plan and will present it to a judge to see if it conforms with the Fourth Amendment," Burns said.

The pseudo roadblocks, then, should soon become court tested or rejected. Burns said Iron County has four DUI cases pending that stem from arrests derived out of the "no block" searching procedure. When the process is given a judicial once-over it could be reinstated or disallowed altogether. Kramer said the UHP, often in cooperation with local police agencies, will continue to use the "no block" strategy in all other Utah counties as the Iron County legal saga unfolds.

The "no block roadblock" is used with greater frequency in southern Utah, where Kramer says drug syndicates use the rural highways as routes for interstate trafficking.

Iron County Sheriff Dude Benson said he wouldn't rule out using the "no block" method but is steering clear of the current debate.

"That's between the county attorney and the highway patrol," he said. "We're staying out of it."

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Proposed ordinance in Winona, Minnesota targets college keg parties

WINONA, Minn. (AP) August 14 -- Hoping to curtail loud parties and underage drinking in this college town, city officials are considering an ordinance to penalize residents caught with more than one keg of beer in their homes.

Under the proposal, which will go before the City Council in a few weeks, residents caught with more than one keg in their homes can be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to $700 in fines and 90 days in jail.

About 9, 000 students attend St. Mary' s University and Winona State University.

" The idea is if you curb the party -- you curb the underage drinking, you curb the noise and you curb the litter, " Mayor Jerry Miller said. " I realize kids go to school and they have parties, and we' re not going to stop that -- we' re just trying to control it."

Officials at both universities approached the police to get their help in keeping its students safe.

" The presidents of both colleges have come to me in the past few years saying, ' We need help. The kids are getting too drunk and getting injured and damaging property, " ' Police Chief Frank Pomeroy said. " (They said) we need to get the emphasis on education and not on being a party town."

Modeled after similar ordinances in St. Cloud and Mankato, the one-keg proposal also comes partly in response to the Rental Housing Code passed in March. That Winona ordinance penalizes landlords for public nuisance arrests made on their property.

If police make arrests three times within one year, the landlord could lose his or her rental license. So landlords wanted help from the city to prevent big parties from getting out of hand.

" What we don' t want to do is to penalize the average person, " Miller said. " There are some people who have kegs in their house and don' t cause any problems. If you had 10 kegs in your house and didn' t make a lot of noise, the police would never have a reason to come to your house."

The proposal is already causing a stir among students.

Those determined to drink are considering block parties where each house would have one keg. Others say they' ll just move the parties farther away from town, inching into the rural areas away from the watchful eye of the ordinance.

" I know there are ways around this -- there always are, " Miller said. " You can have one keg in the house and two kegs waiting in a car ... I mean, I went to school too, you know."

John Spaeth, 21, a senior at Winona State University, lives at Pepsi House, which has the reputation of throwing the most parties off-campus. The house usually holds parties -- with five to seven kegs -- twice a week. He isn' t too supportive of the proposed ordinance.

" Uh, that wouldn' t be good, " he said. " I think maybe it would cut down on big parties, but we' ll just probably have ... parties instead where you fill up a garbage can with juice and hard alcohol."

Some students say the ordinance could be a deterrent to large noisy parties.

" It' s going to stop people from having more parties, and especially large parties that will attract attention, " said Andy Davis, 23, a sixth-year senior at Winona State.

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License to Speed? Pre-Paid Traffic Tickets Spark National Debate

NEW YORK - Let's face it. Nobody likes getting a speeding ticket. So the National Motorists Association has come up with what they think is a brilliant idea: Pre-paid traffic tickets.

Now, the insurance-like program, which offers to pay for DUI violations as well, has sparked a nationwide controversy about safety on America's roads.

The program works like this: For a monthly fee of $5 to $50 - the amount varying based on the amount of coverage - NMA members can 'insure' themselves for up to $1,000 of traffic violations each month. As long as the ticket involves points on the license, the association will pick up the tab. The violation can be anything from speeding and illegal lane changes to drunk or reckless driving.

"It seems that more and more these days, the (traffic) laws are unjust," says Eric Skrum, a spokesperson for the driver advocacy group. "This is simply a way to help people fight unwarranted and unjustified tickets."

The NMA offers a 'legal defense kit' to all those who enroll in the 'pre-paid' program (they can't officially call it insurance because they are not licensed to sell policies). The purpose of the 9-pound kit, Skrum said, is to point out ways in which officers can get things wrong, not to highlight loopholes in the law.

"We just want to make people aware of their legal rights," he said.

But the American Automobile Association, the nation's oldest motoring club, sees it differently.

"It's clear you're paying because you're anticipating breaking the law," says Mantill Williams, AAA's national spokesperson. "It flies in the face of good sense and logic and we don't think it's going to promote safe driving."

Indeed, some statistical studies have shown a direct link between excessive speed and traffic accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly a third of all fatal crashes in 1998 were speed-related. In addition to the human tragedy, the economic impact of such accidents averages to nearly $30 billion a year.

But the Wisconsin-based NMA, which lobbied to eliminate the 55-mph national speed limit in 1995, insists that many of the country's speed limits are under posted. According to Skrum, politics influences posted speed limits more than engineering studies do, with some states under posting 'for revenue purposes alone,' he said. The message: Just because you were caught speeding doesn't necessarily mean you were driving dangerously.

Driving fast and driving recklessly are separate issues, Skrum says, and the normal deterrence to reckless driving are still there: "People don't want to hurt themselves. They don't want to damage their cars. They don't want to injure others. And they don't want to pay higher premiums," he says.

So far, about 30 people have signed up for the pre-paid traffic tickets. But if the NMA deems the program useful to its 7,000 members, it may extend the offer to non-members as well. That is, only if Wisconsin's Insurance Commission - which is currently looking into the legality of the program - doesn't nip the program in the bud first.

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Wisconsin Father Pleads No Contest in Teen Party Case

WAUKESHA, Wisconsin - A Town of Eagle father has pleaded no contest to a ticket for failing to prevent an underage drinking party where middle-schoolers videotaped themselves drinking, using drugs and fondling each other.

Kenneth Burner, 44, must pay $427 for the non-criminal ticket, Circuit Judge Mark Gempeler ordered.

Burner's son and other 13- and 14-year-old students who attended a Dec. 11 party at Burner's house made the videotape to cheer up another girl who was hospitalized with a spinal injury after a drunken driving crash.

"We're lighting up for you. . . . Wish you were here," a youth said on the video.

Eagle Police Chief Hans Lux said he had warned Burner that his son was planning an underage drinking party.

Burner said that Lux expressed concern only about traffic, not drinking. Yet Burner said he stayed at home to supervise the party, and locked his beer in a car trunk to keep it from the teens. He said they went outside to a barn where they drank and smoked marijuana without his knowledge.

Burner's attorney, Carlos Gamino, said in an interview that Burner was pleading no contest only because he didn't want to embarrass his son by forcing the son's friends to testify at a trial.

Burner did not appear in court and repeated attempts to reach him for comment Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful.

District Attorney Paul Bucher said he believed there was evidence Burner "knew or should have known" about the beer that some teens brought to the party in backpacks.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Aug. 21, 2000.

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Go to September 2000 Update