DWI

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

Austin has seen a staggering rise in traffic fatalities this year. There have already been more road deaths so far in 2015 than there were during all of last year, and about half of these fatal crashes involve alcohol or intoxication.

To understand more about how the Austin Police Department is going after drunk drivers, I spent a night following an officer on his DWI enforcement unit during his patrol.

It was a long night. 

James Palinsad/flickr

There have been at least 41 traffic fatalities so far this year in Austin, which is nearly double the number during the same period last year. And, in many of these crashes, alcohol and impaired driving are factors. A new analysis of DWI data is providing a better picture of where the problem spots are.

Over the last decade, there have been nearly 200 deaths in Austin due to drunk driving. A new analysis by Civic Analytics shows suspects in 724 of the 6,033 DWI arrests live in District 3, which includes East Austin and parts of South Austin. 

Jon Shapley for KUT News

The Austin Police Department will be monitoring the roads extra carefully this weekend, and enforcing a "no refusal" mandate; law enforcement will be able to quickly obtain a warrant to test the blood-alcohol level of any suspected drunk driver who objects to a Breathalyzer or blood test.

Fourth of July revelers who don’t think they’ll make fit drivers this weekend will have their pick of get-home-safe cards.

1. Capital Metro has some late-night options, including year-round Night Owl buses that run until 3 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Night Owl services travel five different routes between popular spots on 6th Street and city neighborhoods.

Ashley Park for KUT

Nationwide, drunk driving is on the decline – but you wouldn't know it living in Austin. This spring, the city has seen several high-profile deaths attributable to drunk driving.

This weekend, Kelly Noel – a well-known music fan who ran the popular ATXHispsters Twitter account – was killed by a drunk driver downtown. (The account continues to auto-tweet the latest stories from Austin news outlets, including KUT.) And in March, Rashad Owens allegedly killed and injured South by Southwest attendees when he accelerated into SXSW crowds while trying to evade police.

The morning after the SXSW killings, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said “tragedy brings opportunity. It’s an opportunity for a gut check … it's a gut check for the people involved, it’s a gut check for this community.”

 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Several law enforcement agencies across Central Texas will be on patrol looking for drunk drivers during the upcoming holiday. The Austin Police Department will start the third phase of its safety initiative next week.

KUT News

Travis County is going to bill the State of Texas for some work done on the Public Integrity Unit. Travis County commissioners approved the plan Tuesday.

The Public Integrity Unit deals with white-collar crimes from across the state. It had been paid for with state funds, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed that money when Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign after pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated.

KUT News

Another Labor Day is here in Austin. Here’s a rundown of street closures, holiday schedules, rules for the road and more:

Road Closures:

Several downtown and South Austin streets are closed or partially-closed this morning for a triathlon.

flickruser/duluoz cats

It was a long holiday weekend for Austin Police:  APD made 99 arrests in an increased effort against drunk driving.

July 4 through the morning of July 7 marked a no-refusal enforcement for ​Austin Police. DWI suspects who refused a breath or blood test had to submit a blood sample under a search warrant. There were 55 warrants issued for blood samples over the weekend.

KUT News

Austin police have a no-refusal period Memorial Day weekend targeting drunken driving and boating.

During no-refusal actions, officers can obtain blood search warrants on suspects who refuse to willingly provide a breath sample or cooperate with a blood test.

Flickr/Shanana Rain Golden-Bear http://www.flickr.com/photos/52283904@N04/7630626680/

The National Transportation Safety Board is calling on states to toughen drunk driving laws, but Mothers Against Drunk Driving says there are better ways to fight drinking and driving.

The NTSB recommends lowering the legal blood alcohol limit to 0.05 percent from the current 0.08 percent.

Austin Criminal Law Journal

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg says she is attending treatment for a brief time to “deal with the behavior” that led to her drunk driving arrest.

Lehmberg served half of a 45-day jail sentence after pleading guilty to a DWI charge last month.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Austin has had another high-profile DWI arrest.

Texas Department of Public Safety official Richard Hooks was arrested early this morning and booked into the Travis County Jail.

Hooks is the Capital-area regional coordinator for the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg is serving a 45-day sentence after pleading guilty to a DWI charge last month.

In March, state Rep. Naomi Gonzalez was arrested for DWI after a collision.

Travis County Sheriff's Office

District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg released a public apology on her website over the weekend.

She offers her "deepest regret and most sincere apology" for the April 12 drunk driving incident which led to her arrest and subsequent guilty plea. Lehmberg announced on her Facebook page that she had posted the letter, calling it the "only form of communication available to [her] at this time."

State Lawmaker Wants Travis County DA to Resign

Apr 26, 2013
Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

A state lawmaker is calling for the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who’s serving a 45-day sentence in the county jail after pleading guilty to a charge of driving while intoxicated.

State Representative Phil King, R-Weatherford, says if Lehmberg doesn’t resign, the state’s Public Integrity Unit should be moved from her office to the Texas Attorney General’s. The unit investigates corruption by lawmakers.

Travis County Sheriff's Office

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg pleaded guilty this morning to a Class A misdemeanor for drunk driving.

She was arrested last Friday night after she was reportedly driving erratically. Travis County Sheriff’s officers say they found an open bottle of vodka in her car.

Steve Rhode/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/steverhode/

The Austin Police Chief is ordering  officers to stop getting warrantless blood draws from drunk driving suspects. The policy change comes after a ruling Wednesday from the U.S. Supreme Court that police in most cases must try to obtain a search warrant from a judge before ordering blood tests.

Texas Law allows a warrantless blood draws in certain cases, but Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo is calling on his officers to stop doing that, at least for the time being.

Travis County Sheriff's Office

An Austin citizen has filed a lawsuit seeking to remove Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg from office, arguing that her recent DWI arrest provides grounds for removal.

The Austin Chronicle reports that the lawsuit, brought by local attorney Kerry O'Brien, seeks to have Lehmberg temporarily removed from office until a verdict is reached in her DWI arrest. That verdict should come easily, as Lehmberg has penned a letter pleading guilty “without any request for leniency or consideration of any type.”

Travis County Sheriff's Office

UPDATE: Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg says she will plead guilty to a DWI charge and will accept whatever punishment is handed down.

Lehmberg sent the following letter to County Attorney David Escamilla over the weekend:

To: Mr. David  Escamilla and the Judge of any Court of Jurisdiction

From: Rosemary Lehmberg

Date: April 14, 2013 

Please accept this as my Plea of Guilt to the Charge of Driving While Intoxicated, arising from my arrest on 4/12/13, for whatever level of offense is determined to be justified by the facts.

KUT News

Texas lawmakers are looking to take away the incentive for a driver leaving the scene of a crash when that driver is intoxicated.

Under current Texas Law, there’s an incentive to run away and sober up, because there’s a stiffer penalty for intoxication manslaughter than for failure to stop and render aid, even when the victim dies.

courtesy flickr.com/fairfaxcounty/

Drunk driving suspects in Burnet County who refuse a breath test will have a blood sample taken within an hour, if a new round-the-clock blood sampling process in Burnet County works as planned.

The process, announced today by a group of prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, means police won’t have to go to the jail, get a warrant and go to a hospital for a blood draw.

Daniel Reese

The Texas Department of Public Safety is increasing patrols March 8-17 for Spring Break.

More DPS troopers will be on the roads watching for speeders, seat belt violations and especially drunk drivers.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case testing whether police must get a warrant before forcing a drunken driving suspect to have his blood drawn.

sobriety test
flickr.com/jmsmith000

Update: Austin Police have scheduled another “No Refusal” enforcement this holiday weekend, where a judge is on call to approve warrants for suspected drunk drivers' blood. 

KUT News checked back in with Austin DWI attorney Will Mitchell, who says that all of his advice below still stands. While the easiest solution is simply not to drink and drive, Mitchell offers the following advice to anyone pulled over: "Be quiet, don’t do field sobriety tests, don’t do a breath test, and refuse to give a sample of your blood. … Until you see a search warrant, there’s no reason for you to allow them to take your blood.”

And aside from the obvious danger, a DWI bust is still an expensive proposition. “Any number’s really arbitrary, but certainly the potential for it to run you, ten, fifteen thousand dollars is easily there.” 

The Texas Department of Public Safety has already stepped up DWI patrols for Labor Day.

For the next few weeks, DPS troopers are focusing on high-risk locations where alcohol-related crashes happen most often.

DPS says during Labor Day enforcement last year, troopers made more than 2,000 DWI arrests.

Daniel Reese, KUT News

The Texas Department of Public Safety is reminding Fourth of July revelers to plan ahead before they party.

“If you are drinking, make sure you have a designated driver or some other form of transportation,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Otherwise, you could be making a very expensive or even fatal mistake.”

DPS has ramped up DWI patrols and will continue to increase enforcement through July 8. The department will focus their patrols on areas they consider to be high-risk during holiday weekends.

Photo by KUT News

Austinites will flock to the city's numerous parks and waterways this weekend. We've put together a guide for what you need to know about rules and safety.

Watercraft Ban: Put Away that Motorized Surfboard!

If you’re planning to celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend on Lady Bird Lake, you'll need to leave your motorized surfboard at home. The Austin Police Department will be enforcing an annual ban on motorized personal watercraft – like jet skis – from sunset on Friday until sunrise on Tuesday.

Photo by Renee Silverman http://www.flickr.com/photos/reneesilverman/

People pulled over for suspected drunk driving over the Labor Day weekend may have their blood forcibly withdrawn by Austin police officers. It’s part of the so-called “No Refusal” policy that APD conducts over long weekends.

But this weekend, a new law will increase penalties for first-time offenders with a blood alcohol level of 0.15, almost double the legal limit of 0.08.

Photo by KUT News

Austin's "No Refusal" weekends are going statewide. Over the past two years, Austin has implemented "No Refusal" DWI enforcement around major holidays and events like Mardi Gras.

But for the first time ever, over 200 law enforcement agencies across the state will join the no-refusal enforcement effort this weekend.

"No refusal" means a driver cannot refuse a breathalyzer test if pulled over and accused of driving under the influence.

Image courtesy Texas Department of Public Safety

The Texas Department of Public Safety says it arrested 1,106 impaired drivers over the holidays.  That's a 35 percent increase over last year's 818 arrests.

DPS partially credits a Texas Department of Transportation grant targeting high risk locations for the increase.  Of this year's arrests, 442 were made in areas where drunken driving accidents were statistically more likely to occur.

The $2 million grant will fund increased patrols throughout 2011, meaning more troopers will be on patrol during Spring Break, Independence Day, and Labor Day.

Image courtesy Thomas Hawk http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/

The Austin Police Department has released its annual list of local bars where drunken driving suspects reported having their last drink before getting behind the wheel.

West 6th Street bars make up the top four establishments on the list, with J. Blacks coming in at number one for the second year in a row. Twenty-nine drunken driving suspects who were arrested told police they had come from J. Blacks in 2010.

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