New York City Officials Reviewing DWI Test Process

November 4, 2009

City police officials are reviewing the legal process that determines whether someone was drunk behind the wheel in a serious accident after blood-alcohol tests weren’t performed for hours on two off-duty officers charged with vehicular manslaughter in separate incidents.

Both officers refused breath tests at the scene, which is a person’s legal right. They were tested hours later. One test came back clean, and the other was nearly twice the legal limit, according to a law enforcement official.

Critics say the lag time gives drunken drivers time to sober up.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has convened a panel that includes senior police officials who are looking at how the tests are done and will talk with district attorneys on ways to speed up sobriety tests. The commissioner said he hopes to have results in a week.

Kelly also said he is considering an internal campaign to remind officers of the dangers of drinking and driving.

Though the process varies by borough, in general, any driver accused of being drunk who refuses a breath test at the scene of an accident is taken to a police precinct and offered a second breath test using more advanced equipment. If a second test is also refused, a warrant must be issued to draw blood at a hospital, which can take hours.

Kelly said the average time is about seven hours for any drunken driving case where a blood-alcohol test is given.

Off-duty detective Kevin Spellman was accused of driving drunk Friday in a crash that killed 67-year-old Drane Nikac in the Bronx. He was released on $100,000 bond after pleading not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

Spellman was tested about five hours after the accident, and the official said his blood alcohol content at the time of the test was .21, more than twice the legal limit of .08. The official spoke to The Associated Press Monday on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Several calls to Spellman’s attorney were not returned.

Another off-duty officer, Andrew Kelly, was charged with similar crimes for allegedly running down a pastor’s daughter in Brooklyn on Sept. 26. His blood-alcohol test, more than seven hours after the crash, came back clean.

Both officers have been suspended from duty. Two other officers were suspended after they were accused of giving Kelly gum and water at the scene.

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