Under the Affluence of Incahol
Guest Post by Gerry Goldshine
The one thing that police officers can count on coming across at least once during a shift is someone under the influence of alcohol, otherwise known as “The Drunk”. The over consumption and abuse of alcohol is a serious problem in this country. According to the National Institute of Health, 17.6 million adults are alcoholics or have serious drinking issues. The US Department of Justice says that alcohol is a factor in over 40% of violent crimes and where domestic abuse has occurred, that figure jumps to over 90%. One third of all traffic fatalities involve someone driving while intoxicated. Most of my Law Enforcement career was in Traffic; that included traffic accident reconstruction, traffic law enforcement as well as the detection and apprehension of intoxicated drivers. Of all the traffic fatalities I investigated, only 6 did not involve someone who had consumed alcoholic beverages. Consequently, I developed quite a knack for spotting the inebriated motorist and getting them off the road. While I want to clearly acknowledge that the abuse of alcoholic beverages is a serious issue, not to mention the deadly ramifications that result when a motor vehicle is involved, some of the most memorable and often humorous encounters I had as a police officer came about during an arrest of a suspected drunk driver.
Since I’m going to be talking about Driving Under the Influence (also known as Driving While Intoxicated and abbreviated as either DUI or DWI) it would usually follow that some aberration in how a person was driving caught my attention. I say “usually” because there were occasions when I came upon a car completely stopped in the middle of a street, engine running and no obvious malfunctions that would explain why the. More often than not, these sort of occurrences happened around 2:30 in the morning, which is shortly after the bars and clubs in town closed. Since a car stopped in the middle of a main thoroughfare is a clear traffic hazard, especially if it is within an intersection, I needed to check and see if anything were amiss. I’d pull in behind it and turn on my patrol car’s emergency lights to warn other vehicles. As I made my approach to the car, invariably I would see that the driver was staring straight ahead, his face a mask of intense concentration almost as if he were paying serious attention to his driving. After checking for any obvious visible officer safety concerns (such as guns, machetes, rocket launchers and such) the first thing I would usually do is to have the driver put the shift selector in park, if it was not already. Then the ensuing conversation would go something like this:
“Good morning, sir. Officer Goldshine, Petaluma Police. Are you having some type of problem with your car?”
“Uh, no. I’m just driving home.”
“I see. You are aware that you’re stopped in the middle of the street?”
The driver would, more often than not, get this incredulous, almost goofy expression, as if he didn’t believe me, even though I was standing next to his car. He would check his mirrors and swivel his head around, looking at other traffic passing by, as if just at moment he had become aware of their surroundings.
“Well, that explains…that certainly explains how you caught up to me on foot!”
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Keep in mind that person, while stopped when I came across him, had driven his car to that spot. Call it luck, kismet or divine intervention, but whatever the reason it was fortuitous that his slightly pickled brain made him think he was still driving at the same time it was telling his foot to remain firmly planted on the brake pedal.
Another night, not surprisingly around the same time, I was dispatched to investigate a hit and run accident that had just happened. I knew something was amiss when I turned a corner and came upon over a dozen damaged parked cars along the right side of the street, all seriously banged up. Some were pushed into the car parked ahead while others were knocked askew into the street or up onto the sidewalk. Glass, undercarriage debris, bumpers and other debris littered the roadway. As I drove down the street, the mess got only worse. I followed the trail of damage which began to include the remnants of shredded tire, fluids and gouge marks in the asphalt for nearly a quarter mile until I abruptly came upon what could best be described as a wrecked hulk stopped dead in the middle of this residential street. Billowing clouds of stream swirled up and around from what was left of the engine compartment reflecting back the hues of red and blue from my emergency lights. As I got out of my car, I could hear a loud clanking noise a result of the engine fan banging against what was left of the radiator as the engine coughed and sputtered in its death throes. Assorted fluids were pooling beneath the wreck. All four tires were either completely shredded or flat. One of the front rims had gouged itself deep into the road surface. The passenger side door was sprung off its hinges held in place by the door latch. There probably wasn’t a square inch of the car body that didn’t have some type of damage.
By then, a fairly large group of bystanders had gathered, some of them the unhappy owners of the damaged parked vehicles. I had not walked halfway from my patrol car to the wreck when that unmistakable odor of someone who had imbibed far too much liquor or beer assailed my nostrils. By the time I reached the driver’s door, the smell was overpowering. Despite this, I make a quick check to make sure the driver had not sustained any visible injury. Seeing nothing obvious, I asked if he was okay. Still seat-belted behind the wheel, he just stared at me with eyes so bloodshot that they could have passed for pages in a Rand McNally road atlas. A half minute or so passed while he slowly turned his head to survey the scene and what was left of his car. From the blank expression on his face, it was clear he hadn’t a clue as to what he’d done. Then he turned to me, swaying unsteadily in his seat. Sounding just like the late comedian Foster Brooks and totally matching the Hollywood stereotype of the quintessential drunk, the driver finally says, “Good…good evening…offisher. I’m fine…just fine. How…how are you? May I ask why…why have you stopped me? Is there…a problem? Have I committed some…some infarction of the law?”
Though I realize we have narrowly averted a serious disaster, I cannot help groaning inwardly at the hours of report writing I now face. About then, the driver tries to get out of the remains of his car; however he forgets that he has his seatbelt fastened and it is all that I can do to keep from laughing as he struggles vainly to throw off his restraints. When at last he finally does, he nearly does a faceplant right in front of me.
Fortunately, I catch him and lean him against the side of his car, where he inspects the wreckage. With the most uncomprehending shocked facial expression I had ever seen up to that time, he then says to me, in all earnestness, “Offisher! Offisher! I do believe…someone has wrecked…wrecked my veh…hicle!”
Gerry was born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California.
Upon graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in
the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty
in 1979, he worked for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement
in 1996, he was a patrol officer, traffic officer, and a trainer at Petaluma Police Department.
Gerry is married, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California.