Cops want drunken drivers to stop by

Saturation patrols will continue through Labor Day

KINGMAN - The driver got three seconds into his field sobriety test before he knew he was going to jail. "One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand," the 28-year-old man said while standing on one leg before stumbling and continuing his count.

Back at the mobile command post that police were using during their driving-under-the-influence saturation patrol, the man's blood alcohol level tested at .153. He was friendly with police but became increasingly worried about what his arrest would mean for his family, his job and the foreseeable future.

"My wife is going to kill me," he said.

Police from across Mohave County, including the Kingman Police Department, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Public Safety, are conducting DUI saturation patrols on the weekends leading up to and including Labor Day.

The Western Arizona DUI Task Force made nine arrests for DUI this past weekend. Of those, five were for extreme DUI. An additional seven minors were cited for possessing or consuming alcohol.

The previous weekend, police arrested 11 people for DUI. Of those 11, five were arrested for extreme DUI.

The task force is made up of agencies from Mohave, La Paz and Yuma counties. The extra enforcement is paid for through a grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

The legal limit for driving in Arizona is .08. Anything over .15 is classified as extreme DUI. Anything over .20 is considered super extreme.

KPD Officer Dave Coffin began his DUI patrol earlier than expected Friday when he got a call about a drunken driver who struck Coffin's 16-year-old daughter's car in the north Safeway parking lot around 3 p.m.

He didn't work the scene because of the conflict of interest, but he spoke with the woman, whose BAC later tested at .355.

"She maintained herself well for being that drunk," Coffin said.

The woman, Marla Jean Lewis, was charged with DUI, DUI above .08, extreme DUI and super extreme DUI.

The saturation patrol officially began at 7 that night and lasted until 3 a.m., with several officers from various departments participating. The Sheriff's Office also provided deputies from the jail to process those arrested at the mobile command center in the parking lot next to Walgreens off Stockton Hill Road.

Coffin said the command center is put in a visible area as a means of making people aware of police presence. "We don't try to hide it," he said.

With 14 years experience on the job, Coffin knows how to spot drunken drivers. There isn't one key giveaway but rather several tip-offs: A driver who forgets to turn on their headlights, fluctuating speeds, hugging the line on either side of the road. "We follow for a distance to make sure," Coffin said.

Sometimes it turns out that the driver made a simple mistake. Coffin stopped one motorist he suspected of driving drunk around midnight after he saw her cross the center line twice. She turned out to be sober and on her way home from work.

While all officers are different, Coffin said the majority of his contacts with the public for minor traffic infractions are warnings. He would rather educate drivers than penalize them, he said. And besides that, Kingman is a small town. There is a high likelihood that he's going to run into that person again. And when he does, that person will be more likely to respect him and police in general when they realize the police aren't there simply to penalize, he said. "You can do a lot more with a warning," Coffin said.

It isn't just the drunks on the road that police have to deal with. Just a few hours into his DUI patrol, Coffin responded to a local bar where a 40-year-old woman was fighting the staff. The woman, who told police she rarely drinks, was obviously intoxicated. She was arrested for disorderly conduct after continuing to argue with police, who were trying to help her find her purse.

For those caught intoxicated behind the wheel, the penalties are far stiffer than simply being drunk in public. Cpl. Dan Spivey said the penalties a drunken driver faces are both criminal and civil in nature. Those arrested for DUI face an administrative hearing before the Motor Vehicle Department, which could include a suspension of driving privileges. At the time of arrest, police will take the driver's Arizona license and issue a 15-day temporary license. Most first-time offenders receive a 90-day suspension of their license. The driver is also stuck with towing and impound fees, and even first-time offenders can be forced to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle.

Criminal penalties can range from jail time, a minimum fine of $250 plus surcharges and an additional $250 assessment to the Arizona DUI abatement fund. Those who refuse the BAC test almost always lose their license for a year.

Coffin's last arrest of the night Friday turned out to be two 19-year-old girls who were driving erratically. There is no legal limit for underage drivers; any presence of alcohol in a minor is cause for arrest. Both the driver and her friend were arrested. The driver's BAC tested at .110.

While she sat in the back of the squad car, the girl worried about what her arrest would mean for her family and the foreseeable future. "My mom is going to kill me," she said.