COLUMBIA — At around 12:30 a.m. Sunday, 10 police officers were standing in the middle of Highway 22 in Centralia waiting for cars to show up.
A young woman driving a tan sedan saw the officers in the road and cruised to a stop. She admitted to having one drink, so an officer asked her and a passenger to get out of the car.
- Don’t drink.
- Have a designated driver before drinking.
- Remain at a friend’s house.
- Leave your car where it is. Drivers can leave their car parked downtown or at a bar until the morning and possibly face a parking ticket (typically $10 to $20) or a towing fee.
- Call a taxi for approximately $15 within city limits. Taxi Terry’s offers a service to retrieve an impaired passenger’s vehicle after dropping them off. With the help of another driver, the vehicle is picked up and parked at the passenger’s doorstep, for a fee of $30 within city limits, said owner Terry Nickerson.
- Call STRIPES, a free safe-ride service for MU students, available Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. There are typically 700 free rides a weekend, and drivers stress the importance of keeping people safe, said Jacki Trahan, STRIPES public relations coordinator.
- Call a tow truck, which ranges from $75 to $120, according to Tiger Towing owner David DeBates.
Sources: Boone County Sheriff’s Department, Tiger Towing, Taxi Terry's, Substance Abuse Traffic Offender Program
WHAT A DWI COSTS
The costs for a DWI offense vary widely but on average range from $2,000 to $10,000.
Towing: $75 to $120
Bond: $500 ($4,500 or higher for multiple offense)
Fines: $500 to $1,000 (higher if case goes to trial)
Lawyer: $1,500 to $5,000
Victim impact panel: $25 to $30
Substance Abuse Traffic Offender Program: $375
Ignition Interlock Device: At least $30 per month, usually for six months, plus installation fees
SR-22 insurance: Approximately $1,000 a year
Hospital bills: Unpredictable
Sources: Boone County Sheriff’s Department, Tiger Towing, Substance Abuse Traffic Offender Program
She stepped out, but the young man on the passenger side hesitated and then took off in a dead sprint.
Three or four officers ran after him, and two police cars peeled away, tires screeching, to chase him across the muddy field beside a Dollar General.
The runner, 21-year-old Montrel Burton, was quickly stopped and arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest, marijuana possession and a drug paraphernalia charge.
He was caught during a weekend sobriety checkpoint organized by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with Centralia and Hallsville police. The officers were working not only to detect impaired drivers and other lawbreakers but also to help deter drunken driving and educate motorists.
“We enjoy our job. We enjoy taking drunks off the road, but it’s really serious. We’re passionate about it. … People die because of (drunken driving),” said Brian Leer, a Boone County Sheriff’s Department Traffic Unit sergeant since 2003.
The holiday season often sees a rise in impaired driving offenses and drug and alcohol-related crashes, according to the Sheriff's Department.
From Dec. 10 to Sunday, police departments in Boone County were encouraged to increase driver safety as part of a statewide holiday DWI enforcement campaign.
The county tries to organize close to 20 checkpoints a year, and staffing is the biggest factor in running an efficient checkpoint, Leer said.
“Our main thing is to not inconvenience your general motoring public any more than we have to," he said. "We want the stops at checkpoints to be brief.”
He believes they are worth the trouble if the payoff is fewer drunken-driving fatalities. Last year, the Sheriff's Department recorded 275 DWI arrests — almost 23 a month — through individual stops and checkpoints.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that nearly 30 people in America are killed every day from alcohol-related crashes, and the center's 2002 Traffic Injury Prevention review showed that sobriety checkpoints reduce alcohol-related crashes by approximately 20 percent.
Still, on average, 15,000 to 16,000 people a year are killed in alcohol-related vehicle accidents in the United States, Leer said.
The ongoing debate
Despite the high incidence of drunken-driving deaths, sobriety checkpoints remain a topic of debate. Not all states have adopted them, largely because of restrictions in the Fourth Amendment.
Twelve states prohibit sobriety checkpoints, according to Governors Highway Safety Association — Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
These states have decided not to search, question or subject people to tests without probable cause or sufficient suspicion, according to the DUI Foundation, which is devoted to educating the public about the dangers of drunken driving.
There’s also objection to the costs and staffing requirements.
The primary expense is paying each officer $150 for the night, said Nikki Antimi, a deputy with the Boone County Sheriff's Department. Depending on the size of the checkpoint, costs can add up quickly.
Much of the money comes through federal channels. In fiscal year 2011-12, Missouri received $2.6 million from an alcohol-impaired driving countermeasure incentive grant to help fund sobriety checkpoints.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, studies have found that every $1 invested in checkpoints can save between $6 and $23 in costs from alcohol-related crashes.
The court did stipulate that proper procedures must be followed, including adequate supervision, professional execution, consistency, minimal surprise and inconvenience, and regard for the safety of everyone involved.
In Centralia on Saturday night, Tony Perkins, a Boone County Sheriff’s Department deputy, stopped drivers at the roadblock with a brief greeting and introduction.
Then he asked: "Have you had anything to drink?"
Drivers who consume even one drink, even if it was hours before, must go through field sobriety testing.
"What we're doing is trying to keep impaired drivers off the road,” Perkins told drivers and passengers.
If a driver displays any signs of impairment, everyone must leave the vehicle while the driver is taken to a safe, isolated area.
Leer said field sobriety testing includes standardized roadside tests such as the walk-and-turn where a suspect must walk on a straight line, the one-leg stand, the preliminary breath test and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which involves following a object such as a pen or penlight with the eyes.
The choice often depends on the condition of the driver.
“Sometimes people are so intoxicated, it’s not safe to have them walk around or they’ll fall down,” Leer said.
Tyler Wright was asked to perform the horizontal gaze nystagmus test after he was stopped Saturday at the Centralia checkpoint. He did, passed the test and was cleared to go.
"Other than my knees shaking, I respect what you guys are doing,” Wright, 21, told the officers. “We need more of that. My dad was killed by a drunk driver.”
On average, a 150-pound female needs to drink only four beers in three hours to get to the legal limit of 0.08 percent BAC (Blood Alcohol Content); a 200-pound male needs only a six-pack in the same amount of time, Leer said.
Alcohol affects men and women differently, and BAC depends on body fat, metabolism rate, amount of food in the body, rate of consuming alcohol and the type of alcohol, he said.
Officers do not have to prove a 0.08 percent BAC. They only have to show that the driver is impaired since some drivers are significantly affected at even a 0.06 percent, Leer said.
“It’s just not based on that magic number,” he said.
Drivers do not have the right to refuse a breath test and cannot demand a blood or urine test instead, Leer said.
Requesting a different test is considered a refusal and is an automatic one-year license revocation as well as DWI prosecution.
If deemed impaired, the driver is then handcuffed and placed under arrest.
“We put handcuffs on them, so there’s no confusion — standard procedure,” he said.
The impaired suspect’s vehicle is either handed over to a sober passenger (if available) or towed.
Jail personnel are usually present to complete booking paperwork and to transport impaired drivers to the Boone County Jail.
In jail, they are photographed, fingerprinted and held until they post bond, which is $500 for first offense but can go up to $4,500 and more for a multiple conviction.
A convicted driver also faces court appearances, fines, programs and license suspension.
Consequences of a DWI
A DWI involves both criminal and civil action.
If a driver is impaired and causes an injury, even a nosebleed, it’s a second-degree assault felony, Leer said.
When an impaired driver kills someone, either in the vehicle or outside of it, the charge is involuntary manslaughter, Leer said. Involuntary manslaughter can result in seven years of jail time and/or a $5,000 fine.
On Dec. 7, MU alumna Michelle Morrow,24, was a passenger killed in a drunken-driving accident on Providence Road near Hinkson Creek Bridge.
The driver in the crash, Spencer Gordon, 20, was arrested on Dec. 11 on a charge of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault because two passengers were injured.
Civil action includes license suspension. According to the Missouri Department of Revenue, a first DWI offense triggers a 15-day period to request a hearing, and after that, a 30-day license suspension begins, followed by a 60-day probation period.
DWI offenders complete a substance abuse traffic offender program, a requirement for license reinstatement. Offenders also attend a victim impact panel, where an officer and a victim or family member speaks.
“Depending on which victim speaks, there won’t be a dry eye in the audience,” Leer said.
Organizing a checkpoint
One of the most intensive sobriety checkpoints in Boone County this year took place Sept. 28 at Providence Road and Mick Deaver Memorial Drive. It resulted in the most DWI arrests at a county checkpoint this year.
More than 1,300 vehicles and 40 officers were part of the event organized by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and assisted by Columbia police, Missouri State Highway Patrol, MU police and Hallsville police.
The Providence checkpoint took years of planning, Antimi said.
In contrast, Saturday's Centralia checkpoint involved only 10 officers, and an estimated 72 vehicles were stopped at a more remote location on Highway 22.
Checkpoint location depends first on safety precautions, Leer said. There must be space to pull vehicles over safely, a parking lot and an area for sobriety testing. Location choice is also based on crash and DWI arrest statistics, and areas with high traffic are most effective.
“You go fishing where the fish are,” he said.
Leer expected 20 impaired drivers at the Sept. 28 checkpoint. Police made 16 DWI arrests and nearly 30 additional arrests for driving with a revoked or suspended license and minor-in-possession charges.
Between 12 and 15 vehicles were towed from the Providence Road checkpoint, said David DeBates, the owner of Tiger Towing.
“That’s quite a few, the most I’ve ever seen." DeBates said.
Recovering alcoholic, powerful speaker
Kevin McBee, 49, is a speaker at victim impact panels and schools across the state. Now sober for almost 13 years, he repeats his story about being a recovering alcoholic as a message to others.
“A lot of people at victim impact panels are early 20s," he said. "At that age, for some of them, it's hard to fathom being able to go out on a Friday night and have a good time without getting liquored up."
McBee has been convicted of DWI five times and lost his license for 22 years. “I didn’t care; I thought that I could do whatever I wanted to do,” he said.
All of his DWI convictions happened after crashing his vehicle. “It’s by the grace of God that I never killed anybody,” he said.
The consequences of DWI offenses have increased over the years, but punishment should be even stronger, McBee said.
He is a believer in checkpoints, and so is the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. Sobriety checkpoints have a greater impact for education and deterrence even though regular patrols would result in more DWI arrests, Leer said.
“We’ve been making an impact,” Leer said, “And I think people are starting to realize that if you drive intoxicated in Columbia and Boone County, there’s a good likelihood that you’ll be arrested.”
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.