Mar 252013
 

reflector

An officer checks a driver's license during a check point on 14th St. Saturday night. (Scott Davis/The Daily Reflector)

An officer checks a driver’s license during a check point on 14th St. Saturday night. (Scott Davis/The Daily Reflector)

By Katherine Ayers and Kristin Zachary

Monday, March 25, 2013

A weekend DWI checkpoint resulted in 55 traffic citations and arrests and potentially saved lives, according to police who set up overnight Saturday next to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Officers from multiple agencies manned the checkpoint from 10 p.m. Saturday to 2:30 a.m. Sunday on 14th Street near Berkley Road, where suspected drunk drivers were escorted on board a BATmobile — Breath Alcohol Test mobile — to be tested for impairment at one of six breath stations.

A breathalyzer test reading greater than the legal limit of .08 required the driver to head to the back of the bus to face an onboard magistrate who then determined whether to release the accused to a sober, responsible adult or have the person transported to jail.

Police on Sunday afternoon had not reported how many people were stopped during the effort, and information about arrests and charges was not available.

Tests were administered by Stephen Morgart, state BATmobile manager who created the program and travels across the state. The former 22-year New York policeman came to North Carolina and received a grant in 1995 to begin the program. The first vehicle was obtained in 1996.

“They said, ‘OK, here’s the grant, you’ve got three years to do it. You’re out of a job if it fails,’ but it worked,” he said. Grants also paid for the program’s seven vehicles, many of which were purchased for about $230,000.

The newest BATmobile was used here during the weekend effort. It is a 1-month-old “dream vehicle” purchased at $529,000 that works well at larger checkpoints.

“We would get overwhelmed at large checkpoints,” he said. “It would start to back up, people would have to stand outside and wait to be tested. This way, we can test six people at one time.”

The BATmobile significantly reduces the amount of time an officer takes with an alcohol-related case because a probable cause hearing in front of the magistrate occurs immediately after a positive reading, according to Greenville police Cpl. Michael Montanye.

An officer’s time is wasted when a person blows a .10 or a .09, for example, and their blood alcohol content decreases by the time they arrive at the jail, Morgart said.

“Their alcohol level drops, andwhen they get to the jail and end up getting tested, they might be a .07 or .06, and most of the time they’ve found no probable cause,” he said.

At the checking station with the BATmobile, everything is “wrapped up in one location,” Pitt County Magistrate Herbert Causey said. Court proceedings against the accused begins in front of the magistrate.

“On any night, we’re the lowest rung of the judicial system. We see the people at their very worst when they’re first charged, accused of a crime,” he said. “We determine probable cause. We make the decision as to if the person gets bond, if they have to be held until they can either sober up or be released to a sober adult, someone who can be responsible for them until they’re no longer impaired.”

Driving while impaired checkpoints are effective, Causey said.

“It’s a deterrent,” he said. “You come up and see all the officers out there and the traffic is backing up. If I was a person that drank, I would definitely think twice.”

Drivers on 14th Street late Saturday and early Sunday saw 28 officers from Greenville, Bethel and ECU police departments, as well as law officials from the State Highway Patrol and Pitt County Sheriff’s Office and one Citizens on Patrol volunteer.

It was the first checkpoint for Officer J. Neekins, who has been with ECU police for about a year. The officer checked cars coming and going from a dorm parking lot.

“Any time I can take an intoxicated driver off the street, I’m creating a chance to save my life, your life and their life,” he said.

ECU freshman Roderic Davis said at the checkpoint on Saturday that the effort would be more effective if held downtown, where more people are drinking.

“I can see how it serves the college campus, but not in a parking lot,” he said. “It’s not helping people here because by now they’re almost home.”

The location was selected for the likelihood of detecting impaired drivers, traffic conditions, number of vehicles expected to be stopped, and the convenience and safety of the motoring public, Montanye said.

Montanye, supervisor of the department’s Traffic Safety Unit, has coordinated traffic checkpoints for five years and said the main goal is to make Greenville roads safer.

The team was looking mostly for alcohol violations, he said, but individual officers used their discretion regarding other citations or arrests.

The weekend effort resulted in 55 citations and arrests for DWI, driving with license revoked, no operator’s license and other traffic violations, Montanye said. Drug arrests also came out of the checkpoint, and more than 28 grams of marijuana and other drug paraphernalia were seized.

The number of DWI arrests vary from checkpoint to checkpoint, depending on location and timeframe, Causey said.

During a Halloween checkpoint, he and another magistrate processed 104 people, the magistrate said.

“That’s not including the ones that were just issued citations,” he said. “These were the ones that were actually cuffed and stuffed.

“Most of them are meek and mild, but some let the alcohol do the talking,” Causey said. “If they’re belligerent, I’m not going to take the chance to release them to someone. Chances are, if they’re not going to listen to me, they’re not going to listen to anyone else.”

When accused impaired drivers are released to a sober adult, that person is held responsible in the event any other incidents occur, he said. The sober adult has the right to refuse custody.

Austin Riggs, another ECU freshman, said he believes the checkpoints are a good idea.

“It keeps people from doing stupid stuff,” he said.

“Law enforcement relies on the public’s perception that, if they break the law, they will be caught,” Scott Lascallette, a Greenville police motorcycle officer, said. “This plants that seed. We won’t catch everyone, but that pause (before someone decides to drive after drinking) may save a life.”

via The Daily Reflector.

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