By Mary O’KEEFE
Over 180,000 people were arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in 2011, according to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles in September 2013.
CV Weekly was recently on a ride-along with the California Highway Patrol out of the Altadena station with Officer Ryan Bejar.
The CHP at the Altadena office was concentrating on DUI drivers in the area, with an emphasis in Old Town Pasadena. Patrol units from areas outside of Altadena, including those from South and East Los Angeles joined the effort. A mobile booking station was set up in the parking lot next door to the CHP station.
Ofc. Bejar explained that Old Town Pasadena is an active place for DUIs because of the number of bars and restaurants in the area. The shift began at midnight slowly, with few people being stopped. But then, as it got later, everything changed.
A young man sat on a cement planter as a CHP officer prepared the vehicle, in which he was a passenger, for towing. The man had called someone to come and pick him up while the driver, a young woman, was taken away in a patrol unit to the DUI booking station.
She was stopped after she hit a curb.
One vehicle after another was pulled over as officers conducted field sobriety tests with drivers.
“Many people don’t realize what can happen if you are [convicted of] a DUI,” Bejar said. “You can have your driver’s license taken away. Your California driver’s license is the property of California.”
He pointed out that driving is a privilege, not a right, and when drivers are convicted of a DUI they can lose their license.
For those who were stopped, the routine was the same. Officers first spoke to the driver, calling on all of their experience and training. They looked for watery eyes, listened for slurred speech and other signs of being under the influence.
The field test includes walking a line, touching his or her nose with closed eyes and other exercises that test balance. The officers were clear with their instructions, sometimes having to repeat themselves several times.
During one test, the driver was cooperating with the officer’s instructions. Both the officer and the driver were polite and respectful. At the end, the driver was found not to be under the influence and was released.
“Thank you, sir, you were very professional,” he said as he happily got back into his car.
That isn’t always the case, Bejar said. Sometimes drivers aren’t exactly happy to take the field test.
Bejar added that many times those arrested thought they had waited enough time between drinking and driving, or had thought the alcohol did not affect them.
One woman who was stopped and found to be DUI was coming home from a birthday party. She was stopped after weaving between lanes and almost crossing the median.
Those arrested were taken to the booking station where more tests were conducted. They were asked to use the breathalyzer or were given an option to have blood taken, which would be done at a hospital.
At the booking station, the woman who had hit a curb on Colorado Boulevard had her vehicle towed and left her friend waiting for a ride. As she got out of the CHP patrol unit, she couldn’t stop crying. The officers were patient and kind as they guided her to the breathalyzer and waited for her to calm down.
Bejar has seen this reaction many times and, although it is difficult to watch someone so upset, it is more important to get someone driving drunk off the road.
According to her breathalyzer test, her alcohol level in both tests was 0.13, well above the legal limit of 0.08.
As the night was winding down, a call came from dispatch of a fight in Old Town. Officers responded.
“A fight can start in the [bar] then continue after it closes,” he said.
He added that sometimes after the fight everyone, still drunk, would get into his or her vehicle and drive away. That is why this type of DUI concentration program is so important.
In the end, 20 people were arrested for DUI from midnight to about 3 a.m.