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Sober drivers get pass

Others aren't so lucky at sobriety checkpoints in Pa.

Others aren't so lucky at sobriety checkpoints in Pa.

September 23, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, PA. - The last of the flares hadn't even been lighted when a sport-utility vehicle was flagged for further inspection at Friday night's sobriety checkpoint.

"Oh, I was hoping for a breather," said Mike McGovern, an officer with the Washington Township (Pa.) Police Department.

He grabbed a clipboard and headed over to speak with the Honda's driver, who hailed from Ohio. An unopened six-pack of beer had raised a sheriff's deputy's suspicion, but the man was quickly cleared and sent along.

"Here's your registration card and driver's license back. You're free to go," McGovern said.

The SUV was one of 247 vehicles stopped at a pair of sobriety checkpoints that were in effect from 10:30 p.m. Friday to shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday.

Authorities moved from The Tennis Club in Zullinger, Pa., to Mountain Gate Family Restaurant in Wayne Heights, Pa., at around midnight. Both businesses are on Pa. 16.

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Switching locations becomes necessary because people call friends and family to warn them about checkpoints, according to James Prohaska, also a Washington Township officer.

Bear Thompson carried a lawn chair and bottle of beer outside his home to watch the checkpoint in Wayne Heights. He said he had returned from Blondie's bar in nearby Rouzerville, Pa., just before officers started stopping westbound traffic at Mountain Gate.

"I think they're just setting people up from the bar down there," Thompson said.

Thompson said he doesn't condone drunken driving, but he also said he considers driving after consuming two or three beers to be acceptable.

Bartenders should be the ones to determine whether a person is capable of driving, Thompson said.

"If (police) are going to do this, they should stop having bars entirely," he said.

Some of the drivers who cleared the checkpoint disagreed.

"It serves a purpose," Cindy Trotman said.

The Hagerstown woman needed to pull aside to retrieve her driver's license from the purse in her car's trunk.

Trotman's only complaint with the Zullinger checkpoint was that ones she has been through in Maryland moved drivers through quicker with fewer questions.

The Southcentral Pennsylvania Regional DUI Task Force conducted sobriety checkpoints and roving patrols in seven counties over the weekend.

Prohaska said Washington Township has participated in checkpoints for 13 years and averages one a month in spring, summer and fall. Officers this weekend teamed up with Blue Ridge fire police as well as Franklin County probation officers and sheriff's deputies.

"Getting people to work them, that's the most challenging," Prohaska said.

Police ended the Zullinger checkpoint by "tossing" a Geo Storm in which they spotted a marijuana pipe. The first field sobriety test, however, wasn't administered until 1:35 a.m. in Wayne Heights.

The woman walked a line, stood on one foot and followed an object with her eyes before being cleared.

"I appreciate that you are checking people. I think that's important," she said.

Moments later, another woman took the same tests with different results. The brunette was handcuffed and taken to the police department for processing, weeping while she waited for a cruiser for transportation.

Later, a curly-haired woman claimed she only had one drink in her when scoring .17 percent on an initial breathalyzer test. Pennsylvania's legal limit for blood alcohol content is .08 percent.

She acted confident when receiving instructions on how to walk a line heel to toe and asked the officer if he wanted "the fancy turn." However, despite being told several times to take nine steps, she counted to 10 and looked to the officer for approval.

Sobriety checkpoints reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities by 20 percent, according to reports by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the crew of 12 readied to pack up the white Special Response Unit box truck on Saturday, a maroon Mercury Mystique sped through the checkpoint and stopped suddenly on the far side. Authorities swarmed around the car, then watched as the woman drove over a curb when pulling aside.

Police asked the driver why she drove so fast through the checkpoint.

"I didn't know what it was. I thought it was like an ambulance," she said.

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