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5 Arrested at City’s 1st Checkpoint for Sobriety

Times Staff Writer

Five people were arrested on suspicion of drunk driving at the city’s first sobriety checkpoint, a rain-shortened operation that was set up late Saturday night on Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys, Los Angeles police said.

The controversial roadblock was patterned after those begun a year ago by the California Highway Patrol.

Sgt. Dennis Zine said that, of 560 drivers who went through the roadblock, 14 were pulled off the street for sobriety tests, which included walking a straight line or touching one’s nose with a fingertip.

The five arrested were among those who failed a breath test or were, “in the view of the officers, definitely under the influence of drugs,” Zine said.

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The roadblock was on the northbound side of Sepulveda one block south of Saticoy Street.

Rain Curtailed Hours

Because of light rain, the checkpoint began at 9:30 p.m., half an hour behind schedule, and was closed at 11:15 p.m. It had been scheduled to end at 3 a.m. Sunday.

Vehicles were backed up two blocks throughout the operation. The delay to motorists, as timed by a reporter, varied from three to 3 1/2 minutes.

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At the head of the line, motorists were questioned by an officer for 20 to 25 seconds, told to open their windows, and then asked if they had been drinking.

Regardless of the answer, most then were ordered to follow the police officer’s finger with their eyes, an exercise that Zine said “shows by the eye movement if they are under the influence.”

Most motorists complied without complaint, although one man shouted as he drove off: “Haven’t you heard of the Constitution?”

Escape Route Provided

On the advice of the city attorney’s office, there was an opening in the pylons one block before the head of the column, giving motorists the opportunity to make a detour.

Only a handful of drivers took the escape route, although a sign had already informed them they were at a sobriety checkpoint. Police made no effort to apprehend those who left the line.

Zine said the escape route was designed to meet objections raised by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit that the checkpoints are an “unconstitutional invasion of privacy.” The ACLU suit was rejected Dec. 19 by a state Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

He said police expected few seriously drunk drivers to take the escape route because they usually are too disoriented to know where they are.

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Zine noted that the first person arrested in the roadblock, a 38-year-old Arleta man, told police he thought he was on Van Nuys Boulevard and guessed the time to be “somewhere between 6, maybe 6:30.”

Zine said the next sobriety checkpoint would be on New Year’s Eve and would be somewhere in the San Fernando Valley.


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