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Washington County sheriff's deputy cracks down on DUII drivers

After a long day with business associates at the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course, Darryl May was driving his Ford Explorer down Northwest Old Pumpkin Ridge Road in rural Washington County just after sunset on Friday.

The Fairview resident was headed toward Highway 26 on his way home, where his wife was awaiting his return.

But instead of turning at the road's 'T' intersection with Northwest Mountaindale Road, May - who said he swerved to avoid another car that came out of nowhere - drove his vehicle straight into an overgrown field.

Attempting a sweeping turn back toward the road, he instead drove the truck over a short precipice, landing in a marshy bog.

Luck, it would seem, was not on May's side this particular summer evening.

Witnessing May's ill-fated maneuvering was North Plains Police Chief Bill Snyder, who said there were no other vehicles on the country road other than his squad car and May's Explorer.

With North Plains police officers and Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Jason McLaughlin surveying the crash scene, May seemed slightly shaken but walked away with only some scrapes on his legs. As he leaned on the front of a squad car, the 44-year-old banker was polite and soft-spoken as he answered the deputy's questions.

'Did I drink? Yes,' he admitted to McLaughlin, but added he felt he was 'being safe' in his driving - until the other car suddenly crossed his path.

After a few more questions, May, without hesitation, refused to submit to a series of roadside tests to determine whether he was impaired by alcohol or drugs.

With that, McLaughlin handcuffed and arrested May. The deputy drove him to the Washington County Jail for booking.

Holiday crackdown

May's arrest was one of what would be several over the Labor Day weekend in Washington County related to driving under the influence of intoxicants.

The department's three-week crackdown on impaired driving - including an increase in the number and frequency of DUII patrols and posting arrest information online - culminated Monday with a total of 62 arrests.

McLaughlin, 35, has logged more than 800 impaired-driving arrests since joining the sheriff's department in 2004. He was assigned to dedicated DUII patrol in 2008. With 159 arrests of impaired drivers that year, the state DUII Training Task Force recognized him as 'Enforcement Officer of the Year.'

From a semi-hidden patrol spot off the road to Garden Vineyards, a winery that has tasting events on weekends, the amiable, admittedly boyish-looking deputy pulled no punches as he discussed impaired driving.

'In my eyes, if you're going to consume alcohol, you shouldn't drive. But it's a socially acceptable drug,' he conceded. 'And a lot of people don't feel it's not OK to drive a vehicle after a couple of drinks.'

While the legal blood alcohol level limit of .08 is frequently bandied about, McLaughin was quick to point out that signs of impairment begin closer to a BAC of .04.

Hard habit to break

Regardless of one's blood-alcohol level, an officer need only demonstrate - through targeted questions and a battery of physical and cognitive tests - that a driver is impaired by alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medication or a combination thereof.

'They have to show they're impaired,' he said. 'If I don't arrest someone, I try to educate them. You know, 'Is it really worth the risk to drive 2 miles to your house (while impaired)rather than pay for a cab ride?''

Impaired drivers come from all types of backgrounds and social statuses, noted McLaughlin, who said alcoholism runs in his family.

Occasional, or 'social' drinkers, well-heeled community movers and shakers and even law enforcement officers are not immune to the temptation to drive home after having a few.

'It's one of the deadliest crimes in the U.S.,' McLaughlin said. 'You don't have to be the drunk alcoholic. It's all walks of life. I had to arrest an officer for DUII. It affects everybody.'

Eagle eye

After watching several cars glide down the road from the winery, McLaughlin decided to follow a Ford Bronco, the last in a line of about five vehicles, out into the Washington County countryside.

The deputy typically looks for aberrations - such as weaving, speeding, tailgating and crossing center or fog lines - that suggest a driver is impaired or distracted. He said it's not uncommon for buzzed drivers to do fine as long as they're following the vehicle in front of them.

'They're so focused on the car in front of them, then that car makes a turn and they're all over the road,' he said.

While experienced drivers under the influence can focus on a specific aspect - such as how fast they're going or coming to complete stops - an impaired driver will not be able to cover all the bases of alert driving for long.

'You feel like you're more focused,' he said. 'But if you're impaired, I'm going to see reasons for that impairment.'

Despite his no-nonsense attitude, the deputy does not come across as predatory. After following the Bronco for several miles and seeing nothing unusual, he moved on. A few miles later he observed, but ultimately ignored, another car with a burned-out taillight.

'I could stop everybody I see for one thing or another,' he said, noting that the car's brake lights worked and was otherwise operating safely. 'I'm not big on writing a bunch of tickets. I'm focusing on trying to get DUI drivers off the road.'

Standing his ground

Around 9:30 p.m., McLaughlin intercepted a police-radio transmission of a suspected drunk driver who drove into a field and into a marsh in rural Washington County.

When he arrived at the intersection of Northwest Pumpkin Ridge Road and Mountainside Drive, North Plains police officers were already on the scene.

Darryl May's Explorer was embedded, a good 50 yards from the main road, in a canal of a farm field.

An officer called May's wife to say her husband was in a crash but uninjured. He was, however, under arrest and would be at the Washington County Jail within the hour.

McLaughlin said it's rare that someone refuses the roadside sobriety tests.

'You have to give everybody a chance to prove they're not drunk,' he said. 'But if they physically can't do it, we'll not allow them to do a test and injure themselves.'

After May refused the tests, the deputy wasted no time in getting him in the patrol car and to the booking room of the Washington County Jail.

'The alcohol begins to dissipate,' he explains of time between arrest and transporting the subject to a testing machine.

McLaughlin was firm but friendly with the subject handcuffed in the back seat.

'Did you have a good golf game?' the deputy asked May.

'I would like to say I did,' May said with a resigned laugh.

Father to son

In this case, McLaughlin's efficiency in getting his subject to the station is moot.

In the small room that houses the machine, May, who was convicted of DUII once before nearly eight years ago, calmly refused to submit to the Intoxilyzer breath test.

The deputy carefully explained that by refusing, the Department of Motor Vehicles would automatically revoke May's license for one year, as well as issue a $650 fine on top of any other penalties resulting from a conviction.

This time, May paused a bit before reiterating his original response.

'I will not take a breath test. I will not blow,' he said. 'Is that what you're asking me?'

As the deputy prepared his report, May explained his decision to not have a quantifiable number attached to his arrest record.

'They can either use it against you or for you,' he said. 'I want to find the neutral setting.'

Despite the statement from the North Plains chief, May insisted another driver led to his vehicular mishap.

'Someone crossed my path,' he said. 'I would've been perfectly fine without someone crossing my path. I hit my brakes to stop.'

While the father of three said he didn't lose his driver's license after his previous DUII conviction, the pain it caused his family still lingers.

'It had a great effect on my life,' he said. 'I screwed up. I fell short of my goals, my expectations.

'I'll never forget, I had to tell my oldest son,' he added. 'He was 15. I think it may have shaped his life.'

His son, May recalled, appreciated his father's honesty regarding his mistakes.

'He told me, as an adult, 'That taught me a lot. Most guys would sweep it under the rug, but you came out and told the truth.'

'I can't tell you how much that meant,' May said.

To view details of arrests from the Washington County Sheriff's Office three-week DUII crackdown, visit www.co.Washington.or.us/sheriff .