The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has cleared US Airways of wrongdoing in its DUI investigation into whether the airline served an already-intoxicated passenger. Dana Papst died while driving home from the Albuquerque, New Mexico airport.
The Aero-News Network reports that after Papst was served alcohol on a flight to Albuquerque, he turned the wrong way in I-25 near Santa Fe and struck a vehicle, killing himself and five others in a head-on collision. His blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit for DUI in New Mexico.
The FAA determined Papst had stopped in Bernadillo, New Mexico and bought beer at a convenience store. The accident occurred three hours after the flight had landed.
US Airways was banned from serving alcohol on flights going to New Mexico until the airline received a state liquor license. Obtaining a liquor license in New Mexico includes training servers to identify alcohol impaired or intoxicated passengers.
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.”
A Kirtland New Mexico man, convicted of causing injury to his passengers while DUI, is being allowed to join the US Army as an alternative to going to jail.
Tommy Harwood pled guilty to DUI and causing great bodily harm by vehicle after he rolled his pickup truck in January 2005. He was facing a year in prison, but District Judge Thomas Hynes recently granted him a conditional discharge. His record will be wiped clean if passes a physical exam and is accepted into the Army. If Harwood isn’t accepted, the judge can revoke the conditional discharge and resentence him.
Judge Hynes said it was Harwood’s idea to join the Army in lieu of serving a jail sentence. “If he winds up in the middle of Iraq, he isn’t going to think this is a privilege. We are engaged in a war and need some people to step up to the plate.”
The state of New Mexico has introduced talking urinal cakes designed to prevent DUI. The State has purchased 500 talking “Wizmark” devices. Officials are installing them in bars and restaurants throughout Albuquerque, Farmington, Gallup, Las Cruces and Santa Fe.
The cakes subject urinal users to a female voice saying “Hey there, big guy. Having a few drinks? Listen up. Think that you’ve had a few too many? Then it’s time to call a cab or ask a sober friend for a ride home. It sure is safer and a hell of a lot cheaper than a DWI [DUI]. Make the smart choice tonight. Don’t drink and drive. Remember, your future is in your hand.”
The inventor of the device said “the idea is based on the concept that there is no more captive audience than a guy standing at a urinal. You can’t look right and you can’t look left; you’ve got to look at the ad.”
Two New Mexico drivers pled guilty to their 9th and 11th DUIs. The first driver was stopped for DUI after crossing a center line and driving onto a curb. He refused all sobriety tests and ran from police. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
The second driver pled guilty to his 11th DUI. He had wrecked his motorcycle, but was able to remount and drive away. Police found him later at a liquor store buying more alcohol. He had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.21 percent, almost three times the legal limit for DUI in New Mexico.
The Governor of New Mexico, and potential presidential candidate, announced funding for fighting New Mexico DUI. The governor’s funding includes money for increasing State Patrol presence by 25 percent on weekends, adding officers to Albuquerque’s DUI task force, monitoring DUI courts, a project to encourage employers to identify alcohol problems and adopt zero tolerance policies, and signs encouraging drivers and deplaning airline passengers to call police about possible drunk drivers. The Governor will also ask cell phone companies to program DUI hotline numbers into their phones.
In the second of two perspectives published in Business Week magazine, the President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving defended Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs) to reduce DUI. In the first perspective, a former prosecutor pointed to a California Motor Vehicle Department study’s assessment that ignition interlock devices failed to decrease deaths from DUI and that the risk of an accident was higher for drivers using an interlock compared with drivers without the device. MADD points out that the 2005 California study also states that the failure of ignition interlocks to prevent DUI deaths in California was not due to any problems with the devices, but a failure to enforce court orders for DUI offenders to have the devices installed. Since New Mexico began requiring IIDs in 1995, deaths from DUI in New Mexico have fallen by 12 percent.
A New Mexico law requiring all drivers convicted of DUI, even for a first-offense, to have ignition interlocks installed in their vehicles took affect in June 2005. About 16,000 drivers have been convicted of DUI since the law took affect and about 13,000 have been ordered to obtain interlocks, but only around 6,000 have had the devices installed in their cars or trucks. New Mexico’s “DWI Czar” said that New Mexico leads the nation in ignition interlocks installed, but work remains.
The State’s DWI Czar indicated that there were reasons why a large number of convicted drivers have not gotten interlocks installed: A large percentage of motorists convicted of DUI in the first few months were arrested prior to the law taking affect and couldn’t receive a sentence under the new law; some counties allow DUI offenders to sign an affidavit stating that they do not own a vehicle; and some courts are not enforcing the law uniformly.
The New Mexico Court of Appeals recently threw out DUI evidence when the arresting officer was unable to testify in court about how the road side breath-testing machine he used during the arrest was maintained to assure its accuracy. Without the officer’s testimony regarding the maintenance and accuracy of the breathalyzer, the breath test was inadmissible as evidence against the driver. The driver was consequently acquitted and the charges dropped.