DWI checkpoints held

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Less than 10 people were arrested during last weekend's DWI checkpoints by multiple Valencia County law enforcement agencies.

But the numbers don't matter. Local law enforcement officers say the checkpoints made a difference and brought awareness to the dangers of drinking and driving by officers' mere presence on roadways.

Officials from three agencies — Belen, New Mexico State Police and the Valencia County Sheriff's Office — conducted three separate DWI checkpoints at the same location, just north of the First Assembly of God Church on N.M. 314. Agencies pick checkpoint locations based on arrest and traffic crash data, and they are planned out weeks in advance.

Last Friday, New Mexico State Police parked its massive big rig diesel truck for the duration of the checkpoint.

"We want to make sure the public knows we are here," said New Mexico State Police Sgt. Raul Vigil.

New Mexico State Police set up its checkpoint about 11:30 p.m. Friday night. Officers make a point to say any drunk driver that they catch is one less person that could potentially harm other drivers.

There are several obvious indicators of DWI.

"The odor of alcohol stays in the car," said state police Officer Joel Gonzalez. "Once they crack the window a little bit, that odor is going to roll out."

By 12:03 a.m., one driver was taken over to the church parking lot to take a field sobriety test. The man was a designated driver for his mother, who was at a local bar. An odor of alcohol was present in the vehicle, but not on his person. He passed the test.

Standardized Field Sobriety Training Instructor Leroy Gettler said more face-to-face contact with drivers helps officer determine whether they are impaired.

But he said some drivers can pass a sobriety test before taking a Breathalyzer, even if they are well over the legal limit.

"Some people can be at .30 and pass," Gettler said. "Others are at a .08, (the legal limit) and falling over. It just depends on the person."

At 12:26 a.m., another driver was directed to the lot on suspicion of DWI. Twelve minutes later, another driver was suspected.

The first driver was swaying and could not keep his balance while doing a portion of the test where he had to stand on one leg.

By 12:43 p.m., the first driver was placed in handcuffs and taken into custody.

Shortly after, Gettler started a test with the second driver. At one point, he asked the man to count backwards from 56 to 38.

"Do everything exactly the way I show you," he told the man.

The man counted backwards to 36, but apparently did not exhibit enough signs of impairment to be charged with DWI.

Earlier in the night, the Belen Police Department arrested two individuals on charges of DWI — one for alcohol intoxication and one for narcotics.

But officers pointed out that there could be impaired drivers on the street at any given time.

Belen Detective Sgt. Joe Portio said he was impressed that other agencies picked Belen to conduct their checkpoint.

"It's good that they support the Belen area," Portio said. "We want to make Belen safe for everybody."


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.