Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 8, 2012

River Rangers equipped with breathalyzers

TAHLEQUAH — Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Ranger Capt. Bill James is sending a message to visitors this summer: Unruly, drunken behavior and beverages containing more than 3.2 percent alcohol will not be tolerated in his jurisdiction.

James, a former member of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, has obtained four portable breath-testing devices, one for each of the four rangers working shifts along the Illinois River this summer.

“I had two from working with the OHP,” said James. “And thanks to [District 27] Attorney Brian Kuester, we’ve been able to add two more, so every ranger working a shift has one. And I can tell you, we’re making a difference.”

The devices can measure the alcohol level not only in a person’s breath, but also in liquid in a container.

“This gives us better use of probable cause for an alcohol-related arrest,” said James. “Before, we’d conduct field sobriety tests which are subject; this machine is scientific, rendering accurate results. We can place the machine directly over the opening of a container we suspect contains alcohol, push the button and get a reading from the ambient air in the container immediately.”

According to James, the machine can hold information for up to 10 tests at a time, but lack the capability to download the results to a computer for storage.

“Each test is issued a file number, and we use those on citations as evidence,” said James. “When a ranger does his report, he puts down the person submitted to the field sobriety test and agreed to the PBT, but we don’t actually put the blood alcohol level in the report, only that it exceeded the legal limit of .08, which allows us probably cause for the arrest.”

James said the devices cost $340 each, and he’s grateful to Kuester for purchasing two for the OSRC rangers.

“I firmly believe these should be in every patrol car in the state of Oklahoma,” said James. “The state will pay three times that amount to put radar in all the cars.”

James related a story about a young man who lapsed into a diabetic coma after drinking alcohol on the river, saying that once the man regained consciousness, the PBT helped medical personnel provide treatment.

“We were extremely concerned about him suffering from alcohol poisoning,” said James. “When the EMTs arrived and we were able to give them information about the blood alcohol level from the PBT, they were impressed, saying they wished they had the devices in the ambulances, as it would allow them to deliver better treatment before arriving at the hospital.

The group the man was floating with had just pulled off onto a gravel bank, hoping someone would come by and help. He could have died.”

Kuester said that by providing funding for the devices, he hopes more families will return to visit the Illinois River.

“I’m excited James is being pro-active in cleaning up the river,” said Kuester. “I want it to be safe for families, mine included. It’s good the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and other law enforcement are working together, so we can make the river safe and enjoyable for families seven days a week.”

James said the word is already getting out to the public.

“We went all last week without receiving a fight call,” said James

 “Now, I’ll be really impressed if I can say that at the end of the summer, as most fights stem from alcohol intoxication. They know now, if they bring alcohol over the 3.2 percent limit on the river, it’s a $220 ticket.”

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