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Police give breath tests to bar patrons to fight DUIs

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Laguna Beach olice officer Mike Lee gives a breathalyzer test to Alex Dupre at Hennessey’s Tavern during a campaign called Know Your Limit on Saturday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Coastline Pilot)

Laguna Beach police officers had captive audiences as they asked the patrons of downtown bars and restaurants to submit to breath tests Saturday night.

Officers gave voluntary breathalyzer tests to 66 people at eight establishments during a three-hour Know Your Limit campaign. The educational program is gaining traction in California as a deterrent to intoxicated people driving, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Police in Laguna arrested 581 people in 2012 on suspicion of driving under the influence, the most of 105 similar-sized cities in the state, Lt. Jeff Calvert wrote in an email.

Laguna Beach is partnering with the Office of Traffic Safety on the operation and held its first exercise last December with help from Huntington Beach police.

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The tactic to lessen the number of inebriated motorists focuses on education — letting customers know how the number of drinks affects their breath-alcohol concentration, Laguna Beach Sgt. George Ramos said.

Ramos and officers Natasha Hernandez, James Gramer and Mike Lee started the night at the Marine Room and then moved to Hennessey’s Tavern on Ocean Avenue. Ramos received the OK from restaurant owners before officers stepped inside.

Once inside, Ramos made it clear to customers that officers were there to educate, not ticket them.

Police asked customers how many drinks they had consumed and whether they intended to drive.

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Josh Minnick, a 38-year-old Aliso Viejo resident, had taken one sip of his beer at Hennessey’s when officers arrived.

Minnick said he would feel comfortable driving and blew into the breathalyzer. His reading was .04%. The legal blood alcohol content for drivers in California is 0.08%. A breathalyzer estimates blood alcohol content from a breath sample.

The percent, by weight, of alcohol in a person’s blood is based on grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath, according to the California Vehicle Code.

“It seems high,” Minnick said of his reading.

Lee explained that residual alcohol can stay in a person’s mouth immediately following a sip, so it’s best to test 15 minutes after a person’s last drink.

Mouthwash, which contains alcohol, can also boost a person’s breath alcohol concentration.

“Some people get pulled over, swig mouthwash, and that shoots the blood alcohol level higher than it is,” Lee said.

Gabriella Shevel, a 22-year-old resident of Orange, had two beers and a couple sips of vodka in two hours. Her reading was zero.

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“I have a great metabolism,” Shevel said. “I expected a .01%. [The campaign] is great. It’s an awesome way to make people aware.”

Twenty-six customers had breath alcohol levels of more than .08%, Ramos reported Sunday. Four of those patrons, including one with a 0.18%, told police before getting the reading that they would feel comfortable driving.

Just because a person has a breath alcohol level of less than .08% doesn’t prevent him or her from being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

“A person might be impaired such as weaving, driving very slow, stopping at green lights,” Ramos wrote in a follow-up email. “They can also be charged with DUI if there are drugs or other medications with or without alcohol, which affects the person’s ability to drive safely.”

Gramer added: “The [Orange County] district attorney’s office has filed [DUI-related] charges for a .05%.”

Customers’ willingness to participate Saturday exceeded the number in December’s exercise.

“People heard about it,” Ramos said. “There is a lot more response.”

Participating patrons received a $20 gift card from the ride sharing company Uber for a free lift home if needed.

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People need to think about their night out before heading out the door and make proper arrangements, Ramos said.

“You have to have a plan, with how much you’re planning to drink that night and how you’re going to get home,” he said.

After visiting the eighth restaurant, two officers who had been involved in the Know Your Limit operation conducted a DUI patrol and arrested two motorists on suspicion of driving under the influence. The drivers had not participated in the Know Your Limit program.


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