New Mexico Trying to Stop Liquor Sales on Airlines to Fight DUI

By Mary Ann

I realize that I write about New Mexico frequently. Having spent this past weekend in Albuquerque, I’ve seen for myself how strongly New Mexico is taking its crackdown on DUI. Although New Mexico is not a large state, it is experimenting with tougher DUI laws and stronger communication about DUI. I would expect the larger states to follow New Mexico’s lead, so keeping an eye on New Mexico can keep us ahead of the DUI game.

Now, New Mexico is attempting to crackdown on airline in-flight liquor sales. The State’s fight with the airlines stems from a gruesome accident caused by a DUI driver. Dana Pabst was driving on the wrong side of a highway when he plowed headlong into a minivan. Pabst and six members of the family riding in the minivan were killed. Authorities say that Pabst was already drunk when he boarded his US Airways flight Phoenix to Albuquerque. He continued to drink whiskey throughout the flight. The crash occurred as he was driving home from the airport. He had a blood alcohol content (BAC) four times the legal limit for DUI.

New Mexico authorities say that US Airways does not have a New Mexico liquor license. The state Regulation and Licensing Department issued cease and desist letters to US Airways and two other airlines that do not hold liquor licenses in the state, Frontier and Northwest.

Frontier, which has liquor licenses in Colorado and California, where it buys and stores its alcohol, has questioned whether it needs to do more. A spokesman said “we’re operating under the assumption that we are in compliance with the FAA and interstate commerce laws. Obtaining liquor licenses in all of the states where we fly could be cumbersome and expensive. We’ve never received a request like this before.”

John Wheeler, crime policy advisor to Governor Bill Richardson, said “this accident was an eye-opener for all of them, a real wake-up call. Frankly, I’m surprised the airlines didn’t move quicker to bring themselves into compliance and that they waited for the state to act.”

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