Dedicated deputy draws down on drunken drivers


The glow of the red traffic signal seems eerie, lighting the inside of the patrol car as Deputy 1st Class Joe Mina speaks softly about catching drunken drivers.

For Deputy Mina, this recent Friday night's special 9:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. DWI Saturation Patrol -- eight extra deputies cruising for drunks -- is much more than a chance for overtime dollars.

It's an opportunity to make county roads a bit safer for Harford drivers, including himself.

At 9:50 p.m., the veteran of 13 years with the Harford County sheriff's office eased his patrol car onto Route 7 near Abingdon, all the while scanning every vehicle in sight.

He talks about a 1988 accident that happened as he sat at a traffic signal on Joppa Farm Road at U.S. 40. A drunk's car veered off the highway, slammed into another car that in turn spun into his.

"I felt helpless," he says. "My doors were jammed, and I couldn't even get out of the car at first."

The two young women in the other car survived with minor injuries. The uninjured drunken driver was arrested, and Deputy Mina always will remember him.

Fellow deputies say Deputy Mina, 36, is always on DWI patrol, whether grants from the Highway Safety Committee of the Maryland Department of Transportation's State Highway Administration are paying him or not.

"Joe always gets someone," says Sgt. Wilson Knight, who heads the sheriff's traffic unit. "Everybody out tonight is a high-writer, meaning they write a lot of citations, warnings, repair orders."

Deputy Mina made 66 DWI arrests last year, tops in the office. Deputies John J. Miner and Jon Krass made more than 50 each.

Sergeant Knight and Cpl. Steve Wagner outline the ground rules for that Friday's DWI detail.

"Try to stay after the dee-wees [DWIs], but keep an ear on your radios in case someone [on routine patrol] needs help," Sergeant Knight says.

Corporal Wagner talks about three sectors where the deputies would be working in pairs: U.S. 40, Route 7 and Joppa Farm Road in the Joppa, Abingdon and Edgewood areas; U.S. 1, Route 7 and Route 152 in Fallston; and U.S. 1 from Fallston to Bel Air.

Despite advertising blitzes and public education campaigns, alcohol-related driving arrests in Harford County were more numerous in the first quarter of 1995 than in the same period of 1994.

Deputies, state police and officers from three municipal police departments in Harford made 289 DWI arrests from Jan. 1 to March 31, or 35 more than in the same period last year.

And the numbers do not include 85 first-quarter arrests made by troopers from the John F. Kennedy barracks in Perryville, because their figures also include arrests made in Cecil and Baltimore counties.

Deputy Mina, who studied business at Wilkes College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., followed his brother, Sgt. Glenn Mina, into the Harford sheriff's office after working briefly as a store security officer at the Harford Mall. He says there is no mystique to detecting drunken drivers.

"I watch for drivers weaving, crossing the center line or driving onto the shoulder," he says. "I look for cars with faulty equipment -- a headlight or a tag light out -- and I stop speeders, or those cars traveling too slow."

At 10:17 p.m., he pulls over a 37-year-old woman whose car has wandered several times onto the shoulder of Route 7 in the Van Bibber area.

"She said she was busy yapping with her friend, going home from a school meeting," Deputy Mina says after returning to his patrol car. He lets them go with a warning after a dispatcher informs him that a check of the woman's license and registration with the Department of Morot Vehicles has come up OK.

At 10:32 p.m., as Deputy Mina pulls onto U.S. 40 east near Bata Shoe in Belcamp, a white Nissan truck swerves onto the right shoulder and veers back across the right lane and partly into the left lane before the driver regains control.

"Got one," the deputy says softly.

He turns on his flashing lights and broadcasts the truck's license tag number and the location of the traffic stop, which is standard procedure for safety purposes.

The truck pulls over immediately, and Deputy Mina approaches cautiously, his left hand holding a flashlight and his right hand on his holstered 9 mm service weapon.

The deputy wastes little time.

The Bel Air driver, 41, has vomited on the truck's seat.

Deputy 1st Class Kevin L. Thomas arrives to provide backup and stands behind the suspect as Deputy Mina begins to administer a sobriety test.

The man repeats the letters "D" through "K" haltingly.

He hops to keep his balance when asked to stand on one leg and fails to follow directions to walk a line heel-to-toe.

He cannot put his finger to his nose.

Deputy Thomas twice steadies the man to prevent him from falling and injuring himself.

Deputy Mina returns to his car to get a portable breath test kit and predicts the man will test at 0.13 percent or 0.14 percent.

The prediction is close. The suspect's breath registers 0.15 in the field test, which is not precise enough to be admissible in court. The reading does give the deputy probable cause to make an arrest, however, and the man is handcuffed at 10:42 p.m.

The driver later scores 0.16 on the Intoximeter 3000, the device used at the Inter-Agency Processing Center in Bel Air, where Deputy Mina has taken him for processing on a DWI charge.

A 0.10 reading is the minimum blood alcohol level sufficient to cite a driver on a DWI charge. A reading of 0.07 to 0.10 is used to cite a driver for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The driver in this incident will be released if a friend or relative picks him up.

Meanwhile, Deputy Mina returns to patrol.

By 1 a.m., he has made a second DWI arrest, stopping a 23-year-old Joppa man who speeds by him on Route 7 near Old Joppa Road.

The driver refuses to take the breath test, so his license is confiscated and he receives a 60-day temporary permit until a Motor Vehicle Administration hearing can be held.

Deputy Mina gets his third DWI arrest at 4:10 a.m. after pulling over a 27-year-old Parkville woman whose car is weaving from lane to lane on Route 152 near Fallston.

The woman later registers 0.17 in a breath test.

No other deputy working that night cites more than one drunken driver, but not for lack of trying.

Deputy Miner arrested a 37-year-old Baltimore County man about midnight after finding the man and his car in a ditch on Route 7 in Joppa. The suspect had two previous drinking and driving offenses and registered 0.11 on the breath test, Sergeant Knight says.

Deputy Jack Buchannan found a 23-year-old Bel Air woman who had hit a parked car in the apartment complex where she lived. Some neighbors surrounded her and wouldn't let her drive away, Sergeant Knight says. She registered 0.14 on the breath test.

Deputy Robert Royster stopped a car with a headlight out at Route 7 and Route 152 shortly after 1 a.m. The 26-year-old Abingdon man refused a breath test, and his license was confiscated pending an MVA hearing.

Deputy 1st Class Chris Swain used radar to catch a 42-year-old )) Baltimore County man who was traveling 74 mph in a 50-mph zone on U.S. 1 near the Harford County line. The driver registered 0.17 on the breath test.

Deputy Thomas stopped a speeding truck about 2:30 a.m. after observing it make a right turn at a red traffic signal without stopping. The driver refused a breath test. His license was confiscated and, pending laboratory analysis of residue in a pipe found in his truck, he could be charged with possession of an illegal substance, Sergeant Knight says.

Deputy Jeff Felts stopped a car traveling about 80 mph in a

55-mph zone of U.S. 40 near Belcamp. The 24-year-old Kingsville driver registered 0.09 on the breath test and was cited for speeding and driving under the influence, Sergeant Knight says.

"On a typical [weekend] night, we may catch two or three drunken drivers, so this was a very good night for us and a bad one for those who drink and drive," the sergeant says. "We got nine off the road and wrote another 60 citations or warnings."

More DWI Saturation Patrols are planned. Sergeant Knight won't say when or where.

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