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March 27, 2013
Blood Alcohol Task Force Formed In Burnet County
On-call phlebotomists will draw blood from DWI, BWI suspects starting April 1
AUSTIN – A coalition of prosecutors and law enforcement organizations have a new tool in the fight to save lives and stop driving and boating while intoxicated in the Highland Lakes west of Austin: a new, 24-hour blood sampling process that will start April 1 based in Burnet. The new system is supported by a broad coalition called the Burnet County Blood Alcohol Taskforce, which includes Texas Game Wardens.
Collecting blood evidence to prosecute criminal cases has been a long-standing practice in the criminal justice system, and Texas law requires drawing blood samples in certain Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) cases. For example, a blood sample is required when a suspect has prior DWI convictions or if has been injured and needs medical care. This program allows that to be done at the Burnet County Jail instead of taxing the resources of local hospitals for evidentiary blood draws.
For several years, many agencies patrolling the Highland Lakes have operated under a “no refusal” policy where DWI and BWI suspects are required to give blood samples.
Instead of transporting suspects to a hospital, starting April 1 they will be taken to the Burnet County jail, where trained phlebotomists will be on call to meet them as needed. Enforcement officers estimate the new system will cut the time for a blood sample from a suspected drunk from three hours to one hour, reducing the time arresting officers are off the streets and the water.
“Because of these efforts, we’ve seen a gradual downward trend in number of offenses,” said Capt. Kevin Davis based in Llano, who supervises Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens patrolling the upper Highland Lakes. “For example, on Lake LBJ, our BWI case numbers used to be in the twenties annually, but they’ve dropped to fewer than 10 per year.”
“The heightened presence of all enforcement authorities, and the resulting increased awareness among boaters and the public, has enhanced voluntary compliance with safety laws, and we want to keep that up,” Davis said. “We want to be transparent and very overt in our approach, and put the word out that if you’re misusing alcohol while boating or driving there will be consequences.”
The new system is backed by the Burnet County Blood Alcohol Taskforce, which includes law enforcement representatives from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Dept. of Public Safety, Burnet County Sheriff’s office, Lower Colorado River Authority, Marble Falls Police Department, Burnet Police Department, Granite Shoals Police Department, Cottonwood Shores Police Department, Bertram Police Department, Burnet County Constable Precinct One through Four, Horseshoe Bay Police Department, Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo, District Attorney for the 33rd and the 424th Judicial District Sonny McAfee, and other county officials.
The Burnet County Commissioners Court recently provided funding to start the program. For each $90 blood sample, $40 will be paid by the county, with the remaining $50 to be paid by the participating law enforcement agency. Fortunately, until the end of fiscal year 2013, the law enforcement portion will be paid by an anonymous donor. With help from local citizens and organizations, taskforce members hope that all future costs may be absorbed by private donations.
Anyone can help save lives and keep the Highland Lakes area safer by donating to the Burnet County Blood Alcohol Taskforce. Every $100 donation pays for one blood sample. Send checks made out to Burnet County Blood Alcohol Taskforce to 220 S. Pierce Street, Burnet, TX 78611. For more information about the taskforce, call (512) 756-5476 and ask for Eddie Arredondo or Katherine McAnally.
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