Bear killed; tow truck driver barely impaired
BRECKENRIDGE ” A bear is dead, a truck might be totaled and a tow truck company could have its agreement to tow wrecked vehicles suspended after an incident along Highway 9 near Agape Outpost church Sunday evening.
Capt. Ron Prater of the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) said Julia Friedman, 30, of Breckenridge and her brother Shawn Friedman, 33, were driving southbound on Highway 9 in their GMC Sierra pickup when they struck and killed a bear.
Neither of the Friedmans was injured ” but they were surprised.
“He just ran across the highway, right in front of me,” Julia said. “You look for deer and elk and stuff like that, but it was dark and he was dark. If it had been a deer or elk, it would have been through the windshield.
It could have been a lot worse. There was oncoming traffic, a lot of cars around ” who knows what could have happened?”
CSP troopers, who respond to wrecks outside of town limits, called for a tow truck driver to haul off the truck, which suffered heavy front-end damage. CSP rotates the services of four local tow companies to respond to wrecks.
Prater said the tow truck driver appeared to be intoxicated, failed roadside sobriety tests and was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. He chose to take a breath test, which resulted in a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of less than .05, Prater said.
In Colorado, a driver can be arrested for driving under the influence if his or her BAC is .08 or higher. Colorado is the only state where drivers can be arrested for “driving while ability impaired,” which results if they have a BAC of .05 to .079.
The law is more strict for commercial vehicle drivers, Prater said.
“We are very embarrassed when we call the next tow on our rotation and the driver shows up exhibiting signs of intoxication,” Prater said. “We provide the highest quality of service for the public, and when we appoint these companies under our rotation, we set the highest standards.”
The CSP hit a low point about two years ago when an intoxicated tow truck driver struck an ambulance atop Vail Pass.
“The company will face a series of consequences for this,” Prater said of Sunday’s incident. “It doesn’t matter to us that the BAC was below the presumptive range. We have zero tolerance when it comes to alcohol and our tow truck drivers. We’re going to take serious measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The owner of the tow company said he has a zero tolerance for drinking and driving, as well, and plans to discipline his driver ” possibly suspending him from work for two weeks.
“We’re strict on drugs, we’re strict on alcohol,” he said. “I don’t want to hear that anyone had anything to drink. We put every effort into putting good, responsible drivers on the road.”
Regardless, Prater said he plans to discipline the company, although he has yet to determine how. He added that he understands it’s difficult for a company owner to monitor the actions of its employees.
“But there will be consequences,” he said. “We’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior. If we can’t get this message out to the tow truck drivers, how can we get it out to the public? We, the Colorado State Patrol, do not tolerate drinking and driving. We’re going to get that message out very loudly and very clearly.”
A driver 21 years of age or older who has a BAC of .04 or more can have his or her license revoked for one year. They lose their license for life on the second offense.
Prater said the roadside breath test is not a legal test and can’t be used in court, but is one of a variety of factors law enforcement uses to establish probable cause. Their accuracy depends on how well the instrument is maintained, if it was recently recalibrated and temperature, Prater said.
Because the driver’s BAC was less than .05, troopers did not press charges, but took the man to the Summit County Jail for a second breathalyzer test.
The driver, whose name was not divulged because he was not charged in the incident, said the roadside breathalyzer test was affected by a Listerine breath strip he’d consumed shortly before arriving on scene. That test, he said, indicated he had a BAC of just less than .05, but a test at the Summit County Jail 40 minutes later indicated his BAC was .03.
The driver did admit to drinking a half-shot of liquor with a 12-ounce soda with dinner that night.
“There’s no way I could have gone from .05 to .03 in 40 minutes if I’d been drinking,” he said. “It’s because the breath strip was wearing off.”
The tow truck driver noted a State University of New York study that shows that roadside sobriety testing machines identify any compound that contains a methyl group structure and can incorrectly identify it as methyl alcohol.
Pfizer, which makes Listerine Coolmint oral care strips, lists methyl salicylate among its ingredients.
Friedman said she and her brother weren’t pleased to learn the tow truck driver was arrested ” then released without charges ” and that they had to wait for a second tow truck to come to move the first truck in front of their vehicle.
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