By John Clark
A 15-year-old resident of Reno, Nevada, was arrested for a DUI this week in addition to a grab bag of several other charges after rolling a vehicle on a state highway, according to a report from the Las Vegas Sun.
Sources say the teenager, whose name has not been released due to his status as a juvenile, was driving a 2005 Ford Focus on a Reno highway when he started veering into the right edge of the roadway.
There is no indication of how the teenager obtained the services of a vehicle, although sources do not say the car had been stolen.
After veering too far to the right, the teenager’s car reportedly hit a drainage culvert, which forced the vehicle into a wild spin, according to sources.
The Ford rolled several times before miraculously coming to a stop on its wheels about 40 feet from the road, sources say. The accident reportedly happened at 6:20 a.m.
When officers arrived at the scene of the accident, which, fortunately, only involved the teenager’s car, the driver showed “several signs of intoxication,” which prompted officers to quickly give a breathalyzer test.
After the teenager failed the breath test, he was reportedly taken to a local hospital, where he was treated and released for minor injuries. Of course, after he was released, he was immediately arrested by Reno police.
However, due to his juvenile status, the teenager was taken due to a juvenile detention center, rather than a regular county jail. At the detention center, the driver was charged with drunk driving, possessing alcohol as a minor, failing to maintain a travel lane, and driving with a license or proof of insurance.
At first glance, it may seem odd that a person who was too young to drive could be charged with actual traffic offenses.
When a driver takes to the road, however, despite his age, his is subject to the rules of the road, even if he isn’t aware of them when he takes the wheel.
As a result, this teenager will likely have a lengthy history of driving violations before he is even old enough to be eligible to legally drive.
Remarkably, despite his foolish decision to get drunk and then drive without a license, the teenager did show some foresight by driving with a seat belt on.
According to local police officers, the teenager’s decision to wear a seat belt dramatically reduced his risk of injury, and may have even saved his life.
By John Clark
A former police officer in Newport Beach, California, was sentenced this week to nine years in prison after causing a fatal accident while under the influence of alcohol, according to a report from the San Jose Mercury News.
Sources say Katherine Ann Heinzel, a 51-year-old resident of Winchester, California, was convicted a few months ago for gross vehicular manslaughter after causing a fatal DUI accident in November 2011.
As is customary, however, Heinzel had to wait several weeks for her sentencing hearing, which finally happened this week and revealed that Heinzel would have to spend nearly a decade behind bars to pay for her actions.
The former police officer’s legal saga started on November 19, 2011, when Heinzel slammed her 2003 Nissan Altima into the back end of Davionne Kelly’s 1991 Toyota Camry while traveling 90 miles per hour on Interstate 15.
The wreck caused Kelly’s car to flip end-over-end down a 350-foot hill. Kelly, who was only 20 years old at the time of the accident, died shortly after the accident.
In addition to Kelly’s tragic death, two passengers in the fallen car were also injured. Sources say Kris Walker, 21, suffered relatively minor injuries, while his companion, Brian Morast, suffered broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a severe brain injury.
Remarkably, Walker was able to escape the wreckage of Kelly’s car through a window and quickly climbed up the hill to seek help.
When he reached the road, Walker heroically pulled an injured Heinzel from her car, which had become engulfed in flames. Later, Walker and a passerby returned to Kelly’s car to hear the driver’s last words and to help the injured Morast.
The accident was also notable due to the nature of Heinzel’s former profession. From 1986 to 1994, the convicted drunk driver had served as a police officer. One of her primary duties was investigation traffic accidents, including drunk driving collisions, according to sources.
At the time of the tragic accident, during which her blood alcohol level was reportedly 0.14 percent, which is well above the legal California limit of 0.08 percent, Heinzel was working as a private investigator.
Heinzel requested a simple probationary sentence, but the judge denied her request. Before she was sentenced, Heinzel made an emotional apology to Kelly’s family.
According to sources, Heinzel said she was “so sorry for the lifetime of pain” she had caused the family, and emphasized that her “words of remorse” were completely “genuine.”
By Mary Ann Pekara
Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol is a common issue faced by many countries all over the world. When looking at international legalities, it seems tougher laws allowing for extensive fines and penalties upon conviction do play a role in reducing the number of DUI related fatalities.
In the United States, a federal law, The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, does not prohibit minors from drinking. Instead, it prohibits the purchase and “public possession” of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21. There are some exceptions to this rule.
For instance, drinking is allowed for an established religious purpose when the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian who is at least 21 years old. When prescribed by a doctor or other medical professional, alcohol consumption is allowed.
Minors may drink in private clubs and establishments. Minors may also consume alcohol as part of employment when required by an appropriately licensed manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer.
Many states have legally prohibited youth consumption, but some have exceptions in place for consumption on private property, though the definition of private property may vary.
The legal limit in the United States is .08. The penalties vary from state-to-state, and range from fines to license revocation and community service or jail time. Repeat offenders may have to have an interlock device installed, which requires the driver to blow into a breathalyzer before the car will start.
Some states have a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21, and commercial drivers have a legal limit of .04.
In 2010, the rate of driving fatalities involving alcohol-impaired drivers per 100,000 population was 3.3, representing a 64% decrease since record keeping began in 1982.
Canada allows citizens who are 18 (19 in some provinces) to legally consume alcohol. DUI is a serious offense; so serious, in fact, that Canada prohibits some Americans with a DUI conviction from entering their country.
The nationwide legal limit is .08. For novice and young drivers, there is a nationwide zero-tolerance policy. For those under restriction because of administrative sanction, there is a .05 limit.
Canada uses a tiered system to determine the minimum and maximum punishments for DUI based on BAC, with tougher punishments for those who cause bodily harm because of DUI, and even tougher punishments for those who cause death because of DUI. Penalties and laws may vary by province.
First-time offenders who have BACs higher than .08 face a $1,000 fine, with a minimum of 30 days imprisonment, and a maximum of 5 years in prison. If this is a second offense, offenders face a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of 10 years in prison.
If the DUI causes bodily harm, first-time offenders with BACs higher than .08 face a $1,000 fine, with a minimum of 30 days imprisonment, and a maximum of 10 years in prison. If this is a second offense, offenders face a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of 10 years in prison.
If the DUI causes death, first-time offenders with BACs higher than .08 face a $1,000 fine, with a minimum of 30 days imprisonment, and a maximum of life in prison. If this is a second offense, offenders face a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of life in prison.
Between 1999 and 2009, it’s estimated that 13,174 deaths occurred because of DUI in Canada. In 2009, there were only 1,074 fatalities because of DUI.
In 2001, Belgium saw 145 million DUI-related deaths, and through legislative changes was able to reduce the number to 89 million in 2009. Even with the great reduction, it is still a far cry from the national goal of no more than 750 DUI-related deaths per year.
The legal limit in Belgium is .05. Belgium allows citizens who are 16 to consume alcohol, though some beverages cannot be consumed until a person turns 18.
Legislation as of January 2011 provides a tiered penalty structure based on the BAC of the offender.
Offenders found with a BAC between .05 and .08 are banned from driving for three hours, immediately fined 137.50 Euros, and may face an additional fine anywhere between 137.50 and 2,750 Euros and a revocation of driving privileges when they make a court appearance.
Offenders found with a BAC between .08 and .12 are banned from driving for six hours and immediately fined 400 Euros. In the case of dangerous driving, offenders are required to immediately surrender their license for a minimum of 15 days. Offenders face an additional fine anywhere between 1,100 and 11,000 Euros and a revocation of driving privileges when they make a court appearance.
Offenders found with a BAC between .12 and .15 are banned from driving for six hours and immediately fined 550 Euros. In the case of dangerous driving, offenders are required to immediately surrender their license for a minimum of 15 days. Offenders face an additional fine anywhere between 1,100 and 11,000 Euros and a revocation of driving privileges when they make a court appearance.
Offenders found with a BAC of .15 or higher are banned from driving for six hours. In the case of dangerous driving, offenders are required to immediately surrender their license for a minimum of 15 days. Their case is immediately sent to a judge, where offenders face an additional fine anywhere between 1,100 and 11,000 Euros and a revocation of driving privileges.
Police have the right to randomly test any driver, and while the driver cannot refuse the test, they can request to wait 15 minutes before being tested.
In Italy, people who are 16 years old can legally consume alcohol. In 2002, the Italian government issued a National Road Safety Plan (PNSS) to reduce the number of road fatalities by 40% by 2010, though this was later revised to meet the European target of 50%.
By 2009, Italy had only reduced the number of deaths by 43%, with 4,050 deaths that year. In 2010, the Italian government approved new legislation to reduce the legal BAC down from .05 to .00 for new, young, and professional drivers.
The zero-tolerance policy lead to fines and five penalty points for drivers found with a BAC between .00 and .05; in the case of accidents, the penalty points double. The legislation also requires new and professional drivers who have had their license revoked to wait five years before applying for a new license.
For the rest of the driving population in Italy, the BAC limit remains at .05, but fines have been increased by 33%, as well as the number of penalty points and the minimum jail time required upon conviction. Drivers who are found with levels at 1.5 g/l may now serve a minimum of six months in jail, compared to the previous three months.
In addition, there are provisions for alcohol and drug testing a person must pass in order to receive a driver’s license. Drivers who have three or more serious offenses—offenses carrying five or more points each—within a two-year period are required to retake the theory test to receive their license again.
While laws and penalties vary worldwide, the end goal is clearly the same everywhere: preventing accidental death on the highway. With tougher laws in place, citizens are deterred from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
By John Clark
A former Pennsylvania legislator was sentenced this week to a minimum of three months in prison after he was convicted for assaulting his wife and driving under the influence, according to a report from the Allentown Morning Call.
Sources say former Rep. Joseph Brennan, a Democrat from the town of Fountain Hall, was arrested in August after he reportedly punched his wife and drove away while under the influence of alcohol.
The incident forced Brennan, who won his first term in 2006, to drop his campaign for re-election. In addition, Brennan’s DUI arrest was his second in the past two years, according to sources.
Following his arrest, Brennan pleaded guilty to two charges: simple assault and drunk driving. After a request from his wife, Brennan was able to avoid a jail sentence for the assault charge, but faces a severe penalty for his second DUI arrest.
Sources note that Brennan asked his judge for home confinement, rather than a prison term, because he was scheduled to start a new position as a research analyst for the House Democratic Caucus. Surprisingly, the prosecutor in the case agreed with the proposal.
The judge, however, was not amenable to the idea, and he promptly ordered the former lawmaker to head to prison for a minimum of three months. According to sources, Brennan could ultimately serve up to 23 months for his actions.
The judge has little sympathy for Brennan’s claim that imprisonment would be a financial hardship. According to the judge, who admirably refused to give the legislator special treatment, prison is “a hardship for every defendant who stands before me.”
The common perception in the DUI cases of celebrities or political figures is that judges often give such defendants some leniency, particularly if the arrest is their first offense.
But the fact that Brennan has been arrested for drunk driving twice in the past two years, as well as the unseemly allegation that he punched and choked his wife, likely added to the judge’s frustration with Brennan’s pleas for clemency.
One can only hope that the prison sentence will help Brennan gain some control over his life. After his drunk driving arrest in 2011, the former lawmaker admitted to local reporters that he had experienced a “long and personal struggle with alcohol.”
This struggle may see some progress while Brennan in prison, although he will certainly be under some financial stress. Sources say Brennan has been placed on unpaid leave from his new job, and a spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus said has status “will be reviewed” after his release.
By Mary Ann Pekara
Law enforcement officers are on the lookout for drunk drivers. Part of their training involves learning the Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) through a program administered and accredited by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).
Developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), the SFST is a collection of three tests designed to help officers determine whether or not someone is driving under the influence of alcohol.
The three tests are: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk-and-Turn (WAT), and the One-Leg Stand (OLS).
HGN is an involuntary eye jerking movement that occurs at the extreme periphery of the eye. When a person is intoxicated, HGN is present at lesser angles. Officers use a small object, such as a pen or flashlight, to test for intoxication.
The suspects are required to follow the object as they slowly move it in front of the suspect’s eyes. While conducting this test, officers look for three key signs:
- Is the subject able to follow the object smoothly?
- Does the subject show HGN at maximum deviation?
- Does the onset of HGN occur within 45 degrees of the center?
If the officer sees for or more signs between the two eyes, it is likely the suspect has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher.
The NHTSA has found this test has an 88% accuracy rate, primarily because HGN can be an indication of factors other than alcohol consumption.
HGN also occurs with the consumption of seizure medications, various inhalants, phencyclidine, barbiturates, and other depressants.
The WAT test is a divided attention test because it aims to see how well a suspect can do two things at once. When conducting this test, the officer asks the suspect to walk a straight line. Suspects are asked to take nine heel-to-toe steps, while keeping their arms down to their side. Suspects are then asked to turn on one foot, and take another nine heel-to-toe steps in the opposite direction.
The officer looks for eight signs of intoxication:
- Does the suspect start walking before instructions are finished?
- Does the suspect maintain balance during the instruction?
- Does the suspect stop to regain balance?
- Does the suspect touch heel-to-toe?
- Does the suspect step off the line?
- Does the suspect use their arms to balance?
- Does the suspect make an improper turn?
- Does the suspect take the correct number of steps?
If the suspect displays two or more of these signs, it is likely they have a BAC of .08 or higher.
The NHTSA has found this test has a 79% accuracy rate.
The OLS test is another divided attention test, aiming to see how well a suspect can do two things at once. When conducting this test, the officer asks the suspect to stand with one foot about six inches off the ground, and count out loud by thousands, until asked to put their foot down.
Suspects should count like this: “One thousand-one, one thousand-two, one thousand-three,” etc. until the officer tells them to stop. The officer will observe the suspect for about 30 seconds and watch for the following signs of intoxication:
- Does the suspect sway back and forth?
- Does the suspect use their arms to balance?
- Does the suspect hop to maintain balance?
- Does the suspect put their foot down?
If the suspect displays two or more of these signs, it is likely they have a BAC of .08 or higher.
The NHTSA has found this test has an 83% accuracy rate.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to promote drunk driving. Do not attempt to beat these tests.
By John Clark
A Rhode Island resident was arrested for a DUI on Monday morning this week, which wouldn’t usually be a topic of national discussion. But the circumstances of the arrest have left many people wondering how this man was allowed to drive on Monday at all.
According to a report from the Boston Globe, Robert F. Levesque’s arrest was his third drunk driving incident in less than a week.
Sources say the 54-year-old man, a resident of West Warwick, stopped his car in the middle of a road this Monday at roughly 1:30 in the morning.
When police officers arrived on the scene, they discovered Levesque hunched over his steering wheel, in some state of consciousness that could fairly be described as a non-driving state of mind.
Sources note that the driver’s posture and actions led wary police officers to detect that he was “highly intoxicated at the time,” which is not the ideal description drivers want on their DUI police reports.
After removing Levesque and his vehicle from the middle of the road, police charged the man with driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, and failing to submit to a chemical test.
These charges, of course, came on the heels of two other arrests during the past week. Police officers learned of these past charges when they brought Levesque to the Wickford Barracks to process him.
Concerned citizens may take some comfort in the knowledge that a Rhode Island court had previously revoked Levesque’s license, but some critics believe that the state could have done more to keep the dangerous man off the road.
In addition, the state decided after the man’s third arrest to take further precaution. Sources say that Levesque is currently being held with bail because he violated the terms of a prior bail with his recent drunk driving stunt.
The saga of Levesque, however, reveals the difficult balancing act courts must perform when determining whether to grant bail for someone who appears determined to continue driving under the influence.
Suspending a driver’s license keeps most honest people off the roads, but there are plenty of DUI defendants who are perfectly content to drive without a valid license. In such a case, courts are more likely to keep a drunk driver behind bars.
One method many states use to prevent such incidents is to install ignition interlock systems in convicted drunk drivers’ cars. These devices allow dangerous drivers to maintain their freedom, but prevent them from driving if they are drunk.