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On drunken driving, Carroll law enforcement voices 'zero tolerance'

Carroll County Sheriff's Office Master Deputy Tom Vanik goes through the steps of the department's field sobriety test to evaluate suspected impaired drivers.

It's early Sunday morning. Deputy Thomas Vanik sits in his vehicle in the southern end of Carroll County, watching other cars drive past him. Bars have just let out after a typical Saturday night. It's quiet except for the occasional car and the soft hum of country music playing in the background.

A loud, high-pitched noise goes off as a car whips past Vanik's marked patrol car. Vanik turns on his emergency lights and pulls the car over for speeding.

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When Vanik walks up to the car and speaks with the driver, he's looking for a few key indicators — odor of alcohol, glassy or bloodshot eyes, and if the person can do two things at once. If he suspects the driver is drunk, he'll ask them to get out of the car and perform a field sobriety test.

Carroll County Sheriff's Office Master Deputy Tom Vanik demonstrates the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, part of the field sobriety test used by officers to evaluate drivers suspected of driving under the influence.
Carroll County Sheriff's Office Master Deputy Tom Vanik demonstrates the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, part of the field sobriety test used by officers to evaluate drivers suspected of driving under the influence. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Vanik is one of the many Carroll County Sheriff's Office deputies assigned patrol duty, and on any given shift, Vanik can be found on county roads looking for drivers that might be under the influence.

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"People who know they are intoxicated know they shouldn't be driving," Vanik said. "People who drink all the time don't care."

Vanik is one of the top deputies when it comes to spotting people driving under the influence. In 2015, he caught 57 intoxicated drivers, coming in behind Deputy Douglas Kriete Jr., who had 69. So far, in 2016, Vanik has apprehended 35 drivers under the influence. And those are just the ones they've caught. Deputies acknowledge that people might drive drunk multiple times before being caught.

"It happens a lot more than you probably want to think about," Vanik said.

Kriete transferred to the Major Crimes Unit at the end of August, meaning he is no longer assigned to patrol duty, but he had apprehended 31 for DUIs in 2016, he said.

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The number of drivers caught under the influence on county roads by deputies is down in 2016 from 2015, Sheriff Jim DeWees said.

It's not for a lack of enforcement.

"I have zero tolerance, and I make sure my deputies understand there's zero tolerance for driving intoxicated," DeWees said, adding that he puts a "heavy concentration" on DUI enforcement.

DUI rates

Sheriff's Office deputies had caught 183 drivers under the influence in 2016 through Dec. 14. In 2015, 299 people were given driving under the influence citations.

It's a measurable decrease, DeWees said, adding that he determines if DUIs decreased by looking at whether citations and crashes have also decreased.

Deputies filed reports for a total of 667 crashes in 2016, not including December, according to a traffic and DUI analysis report from the Sheriff's Office, compared to 688 in 2015.

A 20-year-old volleyball player was killed after a two-car collision on Md. 140 by Tyrone Road.

In 2016, not including December, there have been 56 crashes that involved alcohol, or about 8 percent of total crashes. In 2015, there were 51 that involved alcohol, which was about 7 percent, according to the Sheriff's Office report.

Deputies have also issued 14,603 warnings and 6,607 citations through Dec. 14, compared to 17,931 warnings and 9,737 citations in 2015, DeWees said. The Sheriff's Office averages about 600 citations and 1,200 warnings each December.

One of the factors is also the placement of deputies. There are some deputies who have more training in DUI apprehension, and when they are transferred, like Kriete, the stats can decrease a bit, DeWees said.

There have been at least nine deaths involving vehicles in Carroll in the first half of 2016, pacing ahead of the past two years.

In comparison, troopers with the Maryland State Police Westminster Barrack have apprehended 287 drivers under the influence as of Dec. 21, which is slightly up from last year, according to Lt. Patrick McCrory, commander of the Westminster Barrack. Of the total DUIs, troopers from the Westminster Barrack apprehended about 21 since Thanksgiving, said state police spokeswoman Elena Russo, adding that those were preliminary numbers.

The number of collisions involving alcohol that MSP responded to is about the same year over year, which tells McCrory that the increase in the amount of DUIs is not a significant increase, he said.

DeWees and McCrory said DUIs tend to go up on the weekend and around the holidays. There are more people going out, and any time there are more people, there is a higher amount of DUIs, McCrory said, adding that to combat it, he'll have additional troopers out around the holidays, he said. DeWees also said there will be additional patrols by the Sheriff's Office over the New Year's Eve weekend.

While DUIs tend to increase over the holidays and weekends, Kriete and Vanik both said DUIs can happen at any time.

"There's not a night of the week that I haven't gotten a DUI," Kriete said.

Looking for DUIs

Vanik said he usually catches drivers under the influence Friday and Saturday nights, but he can also catch them during his day shift, even at times that many would consider unusual for drinking.

Daytime DUIs can be harder to apprehend because the amount of traffic, Kriete said.

"The good thing about 1 a.m. is there's not many cars on the road," he said, adding that Thursday nights were when he would get the most DUIs.

When Vanik is on the road, he's scanning for a couple of indicators, he said.

Drivers who are intoxicated often drive faster than the speed limit or significantly under. They can cross over the center line or onto the shoulder, and in some cases, they will fail to stop for stop signs, Vanik said.

Though those who attended the Taneytown Law Enforcement Education Program Monday are not old enough to get their learner's permits — or legally consume alcohol, for that matter — they got a lesson about the dangers of driving under the influence.

Other indicators can include following another car too closely, unsafe lane changes and wide turns, Kriete said.

Driving requires divided attention, Vanik said, and the inability to do two things at once can be seen through some of the indicators and on the field sobriety tests. If a person cannot follow directions or answer questions while trying to do another task, it can be a hint that the driver might be intoxicated, he said.

Checking for divided attention can be done through field sobriety tests, which officers can ask a driver to do if they suspect a driver is intoxicated.

"When you're intoxicated, you get caught up on one instruction instead of five instructions," Kriete said.

Field sobriety tests

Like many things in law enforcement, field sobriety tests have been somewhat fictionalized thanks to television interpretation.

There are three tests that officers will administer to determine if a person is intoxicated, and they don't require a person to spell the alphabet backward. But before getting to the tests, the officer must first determine if there is a reason to get the driver out of the car to perform the tests, Kriete said.

Indicators that police look for when someone is driving, as well as how the driver interacts with the officer, are important because in court they'll be used to show the officer had enough reason to request a field sobriety test.

How a person performs on the tests gives the officer enough information to decide whether to arrest. A preliminary breath test is often offered, but it is not admissible in court, Kriete said.

Once back at central booking, the driver can blow into the Intoximeter, which gives a breath alcohol content reading that can be used in court, but the officers have to have enough other evidence to get to that point.

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"A breath test means nothing if you don't have the probable cause for arrest," Kriete said.

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The three field sobriety tests include a test that checks for nystagmus, or shaking of the eyes, a heel-to-toe walking test, and a balance test.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus test — in which a person is asked to follow a pen to show if their eyes shake uncontrollably — can indicate to an officer that a person has alcohol in their system, but it is not enough to determine if a person is intoxicated, Kriete said.

There has never been a good reason to drink and drive. Now, Maryland has a new reason not to.

After the nystagmus test, the officer will have a person do a walk and turn test, in which they walk, heel to toe, in a line with their arms to their side. After walking nine steps, the person has to turn and walk nine steps back, heel to toe. While the person is doing the test, the officer is looking for clues about balance and intoxication, but also for how well a person can follow instructions, Vanik said.

Then it's the one leg stand, which requires the person to stand with one leg raised off the ground and arms at the side. During that test, the officer is looking for clues like swaying or raising arms, Vanik said.

"Basically when we're doing the tests, we're seeing if you're too impaired to operate a vehicle," he said.

DUI punishment

Noah's Law, which went into effect on Oct. 1, raised the penalties for those with DUI convictions and added the requirement of an ignition interlock system with a person's first DUI conviction.

While the new law increases the general deterrence for driving under the influence or while intoxicated, it's not enough, Kriete said.

"There's not enough penalties," he said.

Noah's Law in Maryland increased the license suspension period to 180 days for those with a blood alcohol content, or BAC, of .08 to .14 regardless of whether it's the first, second or subsequent DUI conviction. For those who blow a higher BAC, it's a 180-day suspension for the first conviction and 270 days after that, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

Noah's Law increases the suspension period for people convicted of a DUI and requires participation in the state's interlock system program.

According to the MVA, drivers convicted of a first DUI offense can face up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. A license can be suspended up to six months, and 12 points will be added. For second and subsequent convictions, they can have their license suspended for up to a year, a $2,000 fine and can face up to two years incarceration with a five-day mandatory minimum.

Kriete pointed to Pennsylvania laws, which are stricter. He once pulled over someone from Pennsylvania who was more upset because the driver thought his state's laws applied, Kriete said.

In Pennsylvania, the punishments are broken down by BAC range as well as the amount of prior DUIs.

The lowest punishment, for an undetermined BAC or a BAC between .08 and .099 without prior DUIs, is a $300 fine, up to six months probation, alcohol highway safety school and possible treatment, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles.

If the driver has a higher BAC or a previous DUI, the punishment jumps to a yearlong license suspension and jail time is considered, according to the Pennsylvania DMV.

Kriete said stricter laws in Maryland could lead to more deterrence, both for first-time or repeat offenders. He said driving under the influence the first time could be considered a lapse in judgment, whereas someone who is on their second or more think they won't get caught.

When deputies are out on patrol, they can't tell if a person is a repeat offender until after looking up their license history, meaning there is no special treatment for first-time offenders or repeat offenders, Kriete said.

"If you're impaired or intoxicated, you're getting locked up," he said.

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