Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

1 minute was crucial in senator’s DUI case

Procedural violation saved driver’s license, even though blood alcohol content was 0.24

June 20, 2003


— An administrative action against Sen. Ed Pugh's driver's license was dismissed over concerns a police officer may not have waited long enough before administering a drunken driving test, Department of Revenue records show.

The officer was supposed to wait 20 minutes to administer the Breathalyzer test but acknowledged the gap may have been only 19 minutes, according to records from the hearing.

The test showed Pugh's blood-alcohol content to be 0.24 percent, three times the state's legal limit of 0.08.

The department -- with Pugh's consent -- released an order from an April 30 administrative hearing on Pugh's license, resulting from his Jan. 3 arrest in Topeka for drunken driving.

The hearing was to determine whether Pugh, R-Wamego, should have his license suspended for failing sobriety and Breathalyzer tests.

Dennis Beaver of Atchison, whose son, Casey, was killed by a drunken driver almost three years ago, was upset by the ruling.

"He manipulated the system," Beaver said of Pugh. "If he was at 0.24 at 19 minutes, waiting another minute wouldn't have put him under 0.08. No way."

Pugh later wrote a letter of apology to the arresting officers and promised to seek alcohol treatment as part of an agreement under which the criminal charge against him was dismissed. Such diversion agreements are common for first-time offenders.

Pugh, 53, vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was arrested after being involved in a noninjury accident in downtown Topeka. Pugh had stopped at a stop sign and backed into a vehicle driven by a 17-year-old girl.

Officers who pull over a motorist on suspicion of drunken driving perform a variety of sobriety tests before administering a Breathalyzer test. Standard tests include having motorists walk a straight line or try to follow the movement of a pen with their eyes.

The notes from Pugh's hearing show that his attorney, Leonard Robinson, pointed out the two officers who stopped Pugh were not certified in performing such tests.

"He does not know if they are familiar with what to look for," the notes said.

But the administration of the Breathalyzer test appeared to be a crucial issue.

The Department of Health and Environment mandates a 20-minute wait before such a test is performed. A video of Pugh's test indicated the officer did not wait the full 20 minutes.

"Based on the hearing officer's determination that the proper testing procedures were not followed, the administrative action on Senator Pugh's license was dismissed," the department said in its statement.

Pugh was not the only lawmaker to face a drunken-driving charge this year. Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, was arrested Feb. 25 and faces a DUI charge in Shawnee County District Court, with a trial set for Oct. 28. She has said she would seek a diversion agreement, as well.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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