Crime

When is it OK to drive after drinking? Impaired judgment makes it hard to tell

When is it OK to drive after drinking? Impaired judgment makes it hard to tell

Officer George Clark talks about a St. Patrick's Day DUI emphasis patrol that took place throughout Thurston County.
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Officer George Clark talks about a St. Patrick's Day DUI emphasis patrol that took place throughout Thurston County.

One of the scariest factors about drunken drivers is that many think they’re OK to drive, Olympia police Officer George Clark said.

He and other officers in Thurston County joined a DUI patrol Friday night — St. Patrick’s Day. Other participating agencies included the Yelm Police Department, the Washington State Patrol and the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.

Clark made his first arrest Friday after another officer pulled over a 48-year-old woman near Harrison Avenue Northwest and Kaiser Road Northwest. The officer reported the woman’s car had been drifting over the road lines. He called Clark to perform a field sobriety test.

Despite pouring rain and 40-degree weather, the woman insisted on taking off her shoes. Her socks, black with hot pink heels and neon green toes, were instantly soaked. She was unable to walk nine steps in a straight line, turn and walk back to Clark.

Clark also performed a gaze test, during which the woman’s eyes twitched from side to side — indicating intoxication.

“It’s an involuntary response, you can’t fake it,” Clark said.

The woman gave up on the tests before reciting the alphabet, and Clark arrested her. As she climbed into the car, she repeatedly asked Clark why he wasn’t arresting drug dealers instead. She insisted she was OK to drive, and said she was only a mile away from her house.

Clark drove the woman to the Olympia City Jail, where she eventually told him that she drank a bottle of cabernet sauvignon over the course of about three hours. Her teeth and tongue were stained purple.

Even after talking to an attorney for about 15 minutes, the woman had a blood alcohol content of 0.247, according to a breath test. The legal limit for driving is 0.08.

The problem, Clark said, is that alcohol affects judgment. People often don’t realize that they’re too impaired to drive.

“She honestly thinks she’s OK to drive,” Clark said. “And that’s scary.”

The woman apologized after seeing the results of the test.

“I’ve never had this happen to me in my life, you guys,” she said. “I’m a horrible person right now.”

The St. Patrick’s Day patrols continued Saturday night. They were funded by a Washington Traffic Safety Commission grant, awarded through the Thurston County Target Zero Task Force.

In Thurston County, 56.8 percent of traffic deaths involved impaired driving between 2012 and 2014, according to the Target Zero Task Force.

Amelia Dickson: 360-754-5445, @Amelia_Oly

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