Police suddenly suspends DUI unit after winning award for enforcement

What is Emma’s Law and how does it affect someone convicted of DUI in SC?Named after Lexington 6-year-old Emma Longstreet, the 2014 law requires the installation of device on vehicles of first-offense drunk drivers. 

The Bluffton Police Department has abruptly suspended its grant-funded DUI enforcement unit, citing a need to reevaluate policies, procedures and personnel. 

Capt. Joe Babkiewicz, spokesperson for the Bluffton Police Department, said department officials suspended the unit, composed of one officer, on Monday. The DUI enforcement officer, Cpl. Baker Odom, was reassigned to regular patrol duty in a “lateral move.”

Babkiewicz declined to cite specific circumstances that led to the change.

The move comes 21 days after the Island Packet requested details about every DUI arrest made by the department since January 2017, and on the heels of two high-profile DUI arrests. 

Chief Chris Chapmond, grant supervisor Lt. Joe George, and Babkiewicz made the decision, Babkiewicz said.

“We need to reevaluate the process and procedures for it, as well as personnel for it,” he told the Island Packet. He said the department needs to look at the “entire structure” of the unit, including personnel.

“We need to put the right people in the right seats,” he said.

The department was recognized this year by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety for its high number of DUI arrests — 264 — in 2018. 

DPS named the Bluffton Police Department Agency of the Year for departments with 26-50 officers. Mount Pleasant Police Department, which has more than 100 officers, was the only department recognized that made more DUI arrests last year, with 293 arrests.

In 2013, the Bluffton Police Department made only 35 DUI arrests, according to department datareported on a 2016 grant application submitted to the state. The uptick in enforcement has coincided with a growth in Bluffton’s population and an influx of state funding.

In 2017, the Bluffton Police Department received a $125,000 grant from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety’s Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs to add one officer solely dedicated to combating impaired driving. 

The grant was renewed in 2018 and 2019, providing approximately $70,000 each year. 

The grant-funded officer works only between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 a.m. and on weekends, according to grant applications submitted to the state. They also present at local schools and organizations about the dangers of impaired driving.

“Bluffton is home to approximately 334 establishments that serve alcohol, including restaurants and bars,” the department wrote on its 2017 application. Nearby Hilton Head Island, “a resort destination with an abundance of alcohol,” and Savannah, Georgia, “a hot spot for night life,” worsen the problem, according to the application.

“These surroundings lead to a high prevalence for impaired driving, where it seems to have become the norm for individuals to drive after imbibing,” wrote the department. 

The program’s goals stated on its 2019 grant renewal include the following:

  • To decrease the number of DUI-related collisions in the Town of Bluffton by 50%, from 16 in 2017 to 8, by the end of the grant period.
  • To decrease the total number of collisions in the Town of Bluffton by 20%, from 652 in 2017 to 512, by the end of the grant period.
  • To decrease the total number of traffic fatalities in the Town of Bluffton by 100%, from 5 in 2017 to 0 by the end of the grant

Total traffic collisions have dropped approximately 4.5% across two years, with 623 recorded in 2018, according to the department’s most recent grant application

“We were meeting our goals,” said Babkiewicz of the DUI unit.

Babkiewicz could not immediately provide data on DUI-related collisions over the grant period.

RECENT INCIDENTS

Until last week, Cpl. Baker Odom was the department’s DUI enforcement officer. As of Nov. 3, 2019, he had made 57 arrests this year, according to data obtained from the department through a public records request.

Two of Odom’s recent arrests were high profile and controversial. He charged two people in unrelated cases with DUI, despite toxicology and breathalyzer tests showing their consumption was under the legal limit.

One was Beaufort County School District band director Shelby Ledbetter. 

In the early-morning hours of Oct. 19, Odom stopped Ledbetter’s vehicle and administered roadside sobriety tests before arresting her. A breath test performed at Bluffton police headquarters indicated a 0.04% blood-alcohol content, below the threshold for consideration as evidence in a DUI case, reported the Packet

Two months earlier, Odom arrested the 19-year-old son of Bluffton real estate agent Nickey Maxey. The 19-year-old was charged with DUI, but his breathalyzer test recorded a blood-alcohol concentration of zero, according to South Carolina Law Enforcement Division records obtained by the Island Packet. 

After an examination, a Bluffton Police Department drug recognition expert, Detective Zatch Pouchprom, wrote in his report, “it is my opinion as a certified DRE, that (the 19-year-old) is under the influence of Cannabis (THC), a Central Nervous System Stimulant and a Central Nervous System Depressant, and is not able to operate a vehicle safely.”

A SLED-administered toxicology report and privately commissioned drug screening conducted that night and reviewed by the Packet indicate no impairing substances were present. 

The day after his son’s arrest, Maxey announced his run for Bluffton Town Council, calling local law enforcement “lacking.” Maxey later dropped out of the race. 

“I’m all in favor of DUI enforcement,” Maxey said Friday. But celebrating the number of arrests made by a certain officer can be detrimental, he said. 

“It clouds these guys. I think it takes away from their judgment. They’re trying to make numbers. It’s like the old quota system. And that’s not police enforcement.”

Both Maxey and Ledbetter’s cases are pending in Bluffton Municipal Court. https://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/crime/article237661884.html

Lawmakers drafting legislation to close drunk driving loophole

KENOSHA — 41-year-old Timothy Vandervere will spend the next 32 years of his life behind bars after a judge sentenced him Friday morningin Kenosha County court, for driving drunk in a crash that killed three members of the same family.

Back in September TODAY’S TMJ4 revealed that a loophole in the system allowed him to get a legal driver’s license despite a record of drinking and driving. Now as the case comes to a close, lawmakers are in the process of drafting legislation in hopes to prevent this from happening again.

On April 5, Vandervere crashed into the back of the Rizzo family SUV on Highway 50 in Kenosha County, killing Vincent, Mary, and Mike, and seriously injuring Jerry, but that night he never should have been on the road in the first place. 

Deputies said Vandervere’s blood-alcohol level was nearly four times the legal limit and court records showed this was his second OWI in Wisconsin. He could have faced a maximum of 132 years in prison.

He got his first in 2005 and as a result, Wisconsin took away his driving privileges indefinitely.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation told TODAY’S TMJ4, it entered that information into what’s called the ‘Problem Driver Pointer System,’ also known as PDPS. It’s a system that other states can choose to search if a driver has a serious offense. 

Three years after his drunk driving citation, Vandervere filled out an application to renew his Illinois driver’s license. He wrote ‘no,’ when asked if his driving privileges had been revoked in any other state. 

TODAY’S TMJ4 reached out to the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State to learn why they didn’t see Vandervere’s 2005 conviction when he renewed his license in 2008. 

Spokesperson Dave Druker called it an “act of perjury.”

“At that point in time Illinois did not have a system where we would look at all driver renewals in the system,” Druker said. “We do it for truckers and for first-time applicants. We check on people moving in from another state, but when something was a simple renewal we did not use PDPS at that point.” 

Instead, Illinois relies on what’s called the ‘Driver License Compact’ or DLC. This compact is an agreement between states to share information on drivers with serious offenses, like OWI. Wisconsin is one of five states that does not belong to the compact. 

“The only way we would have known would be if Wisconsin officials had let us know,” Druker said. 

When it comes to the ‘Driver License Compact,’ a spokesperson for Wisconsin DOT told TODAY’S TMJ4, “Wisconsin’s participation in the DLC would require legislative action, and the Wisconsin Legislature has not taken that action.”

TODAY’S TMJ4 then reached out to state lawmakers about the DLC and found most had no idea it even existed. Of the 57 e-mails sent out, TODAY’S TMJ4 received 14 responses. More than half had never heard of the DLC. 

However, this could soon change. 

After receiving an e-mail from TODAY’S TMJ4 and seeing the station’s previous report, Representative Tip McGuire (D) of Kenosha contacted lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. 

“Through much of your reporting we had learned that we hadn’t been a part of the DLC,” McGuire said. “There are families that have been ripped apart because of this and so we have to remedy that.”

McGuire is now in the early process of drafting legislation to join the compact.

Representative Samantha Kerkman (R) of Salem, supports the move. She has a personal connection to the Rizzo family. She was with them just before the crash.

“That night my family served the Rizzo family at dinner and left on a road that I drive several times a day, and you know that could have been any family member of mine out there,” Kerkman said. 

Both lawmakers said it’s time to take action, now that they’re aware of the problem.

“This story I think that brought it to a number of our attention that we weren’t using this data, and so now that we are aware of this, this is out here, I want to make sure that we’re utilizing it how we should be,” Kerkman said.

“Thank you guys for covering this and for making sure that this issue is brought out there,” McGuire added.

The Rizzo family told TODAY’S TMJ4 they fully support joining the compact and hope it will happen soon.

Right now a timetable remains unclear. https://www.tmj4.com/news/project-drive-sober/lawmakers-drafting-legislation-to-close-drunk-driving-loophole

Sam Hunt Arrested on DUI and Open Container Charges in Nashville

Sam Hunt was arrested Thursday morning in Nashville on charges of driving under the influence and possessing an open container, PEOPLE confirms.

According to court records, the 34-year-old “Body Like a Back Road” singer was taken into the Metro jail around 6:30 a.m.

The arrest warrant, which was obtained by PEOPLE, claimed that Hunt’s blood alcohol content level was .173 at the time he was operating the vehicle. The Tennessee legal limit is .08, the state’s department of safety reports.

Officers found Hunt after responding to a call of a vehicle driving the wrong way down the northbound lanes of Ellington Parkway near Ben Allen Road, according to the warrant.

Upon their arrival, police say they encountered Hunt swerving in and out of his lane. He reportedly had bloodshot eyes and smelled of “an obvious odor consistent with alcoholic beverage” as officers quickly noticed two empty cans of beer in the passenger seat.

Officers said that the singer was struggling to give them his Tennessee license, which was sitting on his lap, and instead tried to give them his credit card and passport.

Hunt, who was the only person in the vehicle, also admitted to drinking recently, according to police. He allegedly agreed to a field sobriety test in which he showed “numerous signs of impairment,” which police reveal was recorded on the officer’s car dash camera.

The country artist was released on a $2,500 bond around 9 a.m., according to court records.

He is due back in Nashville court on Jan. 17 to sit before Judge William Higgins.

Kevin Winter/Getty
Kevin Winter/Getty

A representative for Hunt did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

News of Hunt’s arrest comes just a month after he performed at CMT’s Artists of the Year awards show in October. The singer appeared onstage to sing a gender-bending rendition of Reba McEntire’s hit, “Fancy.” https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/sam-hunt-arrested-dui-open-172716509.html

Uber Got Off Easy

Way back when you took your driving test and got your license, someone somewhere gave you a lecture about responsibility. Maybe it was your parents, the driving instructor, or the DMV tester. You were in charge of the car, and therefore it was your responsibility to not crash it. 

You probably haven’t gotten that lecture in a while, but it’s still true. Someone must always be responsible for any moving vehicle. It is a basic tenet of driving, flying airplanes, operating forklifts, riding a bicycle, or, hell, even walking. If you bump into someone else, you’re responsible.

There’s a lot of hemming and hawing about how autonomous vehicles might make that question of responsibility more complicated. They won’t. Or at least, they ought not to. Some people like to pretend they present some vastly more complex responsibility matrix about Who Is Responsible when something goes wrong and invoke barely relevant philosophical thought experiments in the process to make it all seem like a different problem than it is. But whether the operator of the vehicle is a person or computer, someone is still in charge. 

You wouldn’t know that, though, from Tuesday’s National Transportation Safety Board’s hearing on the death of Elaine Herzberg, the woman struck and killed by Uber’s self-driving test vehicle in March 2018. According to their findings, everyone is responsible. 

The NTSB identified “safety issues” with Uber’s “inadequate safety culture,” which has been well-documented, as merely one of the many causes. But it also pinned the crash on Uber’s safety driver for not paying attention—a separate issue from how the self-driving cars were programmed and how management designed the testing process to prioritize “metrics” like miles driven to impress the new boss before safety—and on government agencies such as the Arizona Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for not enacting more stringent regulations or mandatory safety reporting. 

Most gallingly, the NTSB even found Herzberg herself was partly responsible because she did not cross the street at a crosswalk—never you mind that the bike path she was on spit her out in the middle of the block—and having drugs in her system at the time of the crash, a fact which, in its most charitable interpretation, means Herzberg was not alert enough to dive out of the way of the Uber SUV prior to impact.

Here is the NTSB’s entire “Probable Cause” statement:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the crash in Tempe, Arizona, was the failure of the vehicle operator to monitor the driving environment and the operation of the automated driving system because she was visually distracted throughout the trip by her personal cell phone. Contributing to the crash were the Uber Advanced Technologies Group’s (1) inadequate safety risk assessment procedures, (2) ineffective oversight of vehicle operators, and (3) lack of adequate mechanisms for addressing operators’ automation complacency—all a consequence of its inadequate safety culture. Further factors contributing to the crash were (1) the impaired pedestrian’s crossing of N. Mill Avenue outside a crosswalk, and (2) the Arizona Department of Transportation’s insufficient oversight of automated vehicle testing

In sum, the NTSB concluded that the blame first and foremost rested on the safety driver, a contractor hired by Uber to supervise the software driving the car. Uber’s inadequate safety culture was relegated to a “contributing” factor to the crash. Herzberg’s behavior and the Arizona Department of Transportation’s lack of oversight in AV tasting are also name-checked.

This attitude that there is plenty of blame to go around was in keeping with the hearing’s overall tone, one of deference and occasionally even praise for Uber. This may sound bizarre given the NTSB investigation concluded the company’s workers were a cause of the crash. But on multiple occasions, NTSB members not only implicitly forgave Uber, but praised the company for its actions after the crash, as if the company prior to Hertzberg’s death was completely separate from the one after. They were awfully good sports about the whole thing.

The summary remarks from the NTSB Chairman, Robert Sumwalt, characterized his general approach. “Uber ATG has really embraced the lessons from this event, from this tragic event,” Sumwalt said. “Uber has truly embraced those lessons and we want to encourage them to continue on that journey and we want others to learn from this as well.”

You could almost hear the underlying sentiment, the one he so obviously wanted to say, that we all make mistakes.The Mistakes We Make

On Monday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was roundly condemned, including by this website, for telling Read more

Meanwhile, the NTSB was never very clear on precisely What Uber’s journey consisted of or what cultural changes the company made other than requiring two safety drivers instead of one (would that have made a difference during the 5.6 seconds the driver had to save Herzberg’s life?). Despite the fact Sumwalt stated during his opening remarks that he hopes other AV companies learn from this, it wasn’t at all clear what he hopes they learn. 

Certainly, the hearing synopsis includes no hints. It includes recommendations to NHTSA, the state of Arizona, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, and, lastly, to Uber, which are below in full:

Complete the implementation of a safety management system for automated driving system testing that, at a minimum, includes safety policy, safety risk management, safety assurance, and safety promotion. 

These “recommendations,” bland to the point of banality, are Homer Simpson-esque in their lack of substance, as if repeating the word “safety” enough will do the job. 

To be clear, the NTSB has no power to actually punish anyone. It conducts investigations and issues recommendations, although they’re certainly within their rights to make better ones. 

But the NTSB’s coziness with Uber—in a not-so-veiled jab at Elon Musk, Sumwalt thanked the Uber CEO for not hanging up on him—would merely be an odd curiosity if it wasn’t emblematic of the structural failing to hold Uber accountable in any meaningful way for Herzberg’s death. Prosecutors declined to charge Uber for any criminal wrongdoing. Herzberg’s family reached an undisclosed settlement with the company less than two weeks after the crash before many of the underlying facts of the case came to light. 

In the end, the person who may end up being held most accountable in all of this is the safety driver. Prosecutors have not ruled out charging her, and she was the only person mentioned in the NTSB’s probable cause statement.

To be sure, the safety driver is far from blameless. She was intermittently watching clips from The Voice on her smartphone propped below the steering wheel in the minutes leading up to the crash. She was not paying attention to the road. Doing so may have saved someone’s life.

But that is exactly it; the role of the safety driver is to save lives before they are taken, not to drive the car. It is a thankless and inevitably doomed task when sitting in a car driven by a bad computer program. To conflate the safety driver as the operator of the vehicle, as the NTSB does when it refers to her as the “operator,” is a categorical error. She was not driving the car, the computer was. That was not an error, but the purpose.

The core wrong here, aside from Uber’s series of decisions to put cars driven by computers with unacceptably high failure rates on the road, was Uber’s ignorance—or willful dismissal of—decades of research that shows humans don’t share responsibility with computers well, research its rival Waymo had embraced and learned from years prior. Waymo, armed with much of the same information and technology as Uber, determined it would not take the risk. Uber did. 
Automation Transformed How Pilots Fly Planes. Now the Same Must Happen With Cars

The future of driving is supposed to feel like flying. The names some car companies give their…Read more

Someone must always be in control of the car. When that car is driven by a computer program, the company that makes that program is in control. When that computer program is very bad at driving cars, then no one is in control. Even a human backup driver cannot make up for that.

The most cynical interpretation of the safety driver’s role in all this is one of the fall guy. In this interpretation, they are there precisely to be blamed in case something goes wrong. I don’t know if I’m willing to go quite that far, but if that was the plan all along, then the Uber crash suggests it was a good one. After all, Uber is in the legal clear, having paid next to no price both legally and financially for this catastrophe. They even got an attaboy from the crash investigators for having said all the right things. The safety driver still might go to prison. https://jalopnik.com/uber-got-off-easy-1839948349

Uber driver admits to smoking meth and marijuana before picking up passenger, court docs say

JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. (WXIN) – An Indianapolis Uber driver was arrested and accused of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and meth possession while working.

The Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office charged 56-year-old Mark Allen Atchison with possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

On November 10, an officer with the New Whiteland Police Department pulled Atchison over for speeding on U.S. 31 in New Whiteland.

The officer reported the smell of burnt marijuana coming from the vehicle and asked Atchison and his passenger to provide identification.

Atchison’s backseat passenger told the officer she did not have her identification, adding that Atchison was her Uber driver, which he confirmed.

The officers asked Atchison about the marijuana smell, and he said someone had been smoking in his car earlier in the day, documents say. When the officer said he was going to conduct a search of the car, and he asked Atchison if he would find anything, Atchison allegedly told the officer there was a meth pipe in his car.

Officers said they found various containers with a white crystal-like substance, white powder residue, and green residue. They also found various devices believed to be drug paraphernalia.

Police say Atchison admitted to smoking meth and marijuana approximately 90 minutes before the officer stopped him.

After conducting field sobriety tests and submitting to a blood draw, the officer arrested Atchison.

“The purpose of ride sharing is to avoid this exact scenario. I take a dim view of when someone is being responsible and doing the right thing and then endangered by someone else’s actions,” said Prosecutor Joe Villanueva.

Meth possession is a level 6 felony and has a sentencing range of six months to 2 1/2 years with a presumptive sentence of 1 year and a fine of up to $10,000.

The other charges are class C misdemeanors, and have a sentencing range of 0 to 60 days and a fine of up to $500.

An Uber spokesperson issued this statement:

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for any alcohol or drugs on the app, which all drivers agree to when they sign up. After becoming aware of this report, this individual’s access has been removed from the app.”

Uber’s policy states if you suspect your driver to be under the influence you should cancel the ride and ask to get out. It says to call 911 and report them to Uber. https://fox13now.com/2019/11/16/uber-driver-admits-to-smoking-meth-and-marijuana-before-picking-up-passenger-court-docs-say/