Sober reality for drunken drivers

OSP brings mobile DUII lab to Medford for increased holiday weekend efforts
Oregon State Police Sgt. Tyler Lee and Trooper Jessica Hall talk in front of a mobile DUII lab Saturday in Central Point.Julia Moore

Oregon State Police will roll New Year's Day into Medford in a giant Winnebago — complete with a sink, bathroom, in-dash television and a microwave.

But this Winnebago isn't in town for a holiday break. The vacation-home-on-wheels has been retro-fitted with two holding cells, dispatch radios and Breathalyzers meant to take drunken drivers to task for imbibing too much and climbing behind the wheel.

OSP Sgt. Tyler Lee drove the mobile DUII lab down from Salem as part of a holiday saturation patrol involving most Southern Oregon police departments.

The goal is to use grant money to jam the streets and highways with extra cops through the New Year.

These extra patrols are given one command: Find and deal with drunken drivers.

The patrols could overwhelm the few Breathalyzers in the county, which is where the mobile DUII lab comes in, Lee said.

"We can process people right here in the lab without having a trooper or an officer drive a DUII driver back to the jail," Lee said. "It maximizes road time for the troopers and officers."

Suspected drunken drivers are ushered up the steps of the Winnebago and face a line of Breathalyzer machines that will measure their blood-alcohol content. Anyone who fails the field sobriety test and then blows hot for booze will be cited or held in one of the two cells until they can be transported to jail or have someone come and pick them up.

"We can do everything right here," Lee said.

Medford police Sgt. Don Lane said the mobile lab is helps keep things running smoothly during saturation patrols that see officers from several departments descend on one city to hunt DUIIs.

And since a typical DUII can take an average of 45 minutes to process, lines can form at the machine on busy nights, Lane said.

"Sometimes you can have two or three officers stacked up at a (Breathalyzer)," Lane said. "With the lab you can get those people processed, which is good for them because we don't want to keep them in custody any longer than they need to be."

Medford plans to have five extra officers working overtime on New Year's Day, Lane said.

This is the sole mobile lab in the state and it is based in OSP headquarters in Salem. Departments throughput the state make requests for the lab on holidays and sporting events that see large crowds swilling booze.

The lab recently served a tour at the Civil War game in Corvallis and was in Southern Oregon on Dec. 22. Seven people were cited for DUII that night after they were processed in the lab.

Lee will man the lab on New Year's Day. It will be parked somewhere in Medford, where it will be visible to drivers.

The idea is for drivers to see the lab and come to the conclusion that it might not be a good idea to drink and drive in Medford that day.

The Medford Police Department, OSP, Jackson County Sheriff's Department, Eagle Point Police Department, Central Point Police Department and Ashland Police Department will send officers to Medford to participate in the extra patrols.

The lab won't be out on New Year's Eve, which is usually considered the peak drinking night of the holidays.

Lee said word is out that DUII hawks are patrolling that night.

"There is good awareness down here on New Year's Eve, so we've seen a decrease in activity on that night," Lee said. "There are still DUIIs out there, but we've seen a shift into New Year's Day."

New Year's Day features popular college football games including the Rose Bowl.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.


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