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Drug Testing News

Electronic tether keeps a hard lesson fresh in his mind



By SUSAN PAYNTER
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER COLUMNIST

Terry works the ferries, showers, sleeps and mows his lawn wearing an electronic ankle bracelet monitor.

Three times a day -- at 7:30 a.m. and 4 and 8 p.m. -- the phone rings and the Bremerton man blows into a breathalizer in front of a camera mounted by his computer, turning the digital read-out toward the camera's eye for the human monitor on the other end of the phone to see.

Then Terry must blow into another breathalizer in his car before he can start the engine and head off to work. That's something he has in common with state Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge since her Feb. 28 arrest for drunken driving.

Something else they have in common is the candor with which both accept the blame for doing something so stupid as driving under the influence.

"Tell the judge she's got a lot of guts to hang her laundry out like she did," Terry said.

Of all the readers weighing in for and against the spike in the sale of personal breathalizers since Bridge's dangerous boo-boo, Terry had the most to say in defense of the little devices that are now a big part of his life. "It's an educational tool and it removes any temptation at all that you might have to try to outfox the system," Terry said. He thinks most people would be surprised to find that, even when they feel they're "just fine," they are maybe "double drunk."

Terry's blood alcohol level was .17 -- nearly twice the legal limit of .08 -- when he was pulled over for a burned out taillight just eight days before Bridge's arrest.

Because it was his second time -- even though 10 years had elapsed since he'd last seen a red light in his rear-view mirror -- Terry spent 30 days in the Kitsap County Jail, where he didn't like the accommodations much.

"I'm not crazy about oatmeal, you can't order pizza and they don't deliver the newspaper," said Terry, who hates missing his morning P-I.

The lesson this second time around has been expensive and, he says, indelible.

It has cost the ferry maintenance man more than $4,000, counting legal fees, fines and assessments for all the fancy equipment in his house, his car and on his ankle. And it's worth every penny because, now, he's gotten the point.

Along with a $1,500 fine, Terry pays $600 a month for the ankle device and he pays installments on a $2,600 tuition fee for alcohol class. He also paid $100 to the State Patrol for administering the breath test he failed. And, cheapest but most meaningful of all, he paid $20 to a victim's panel where he faced those whose lives have been devastated by drunken drivers.

One woman named Ruby really got to him. Her 13-year-old son was struck and killed by a drunken driver who left the boy lying in the street and drove from the scene to a store to buy some breath mints.

Terry never had an accident. But the self-delusion of that man is something he can identify with.

Terry says his arrest was the last chorus of the same old song he's heard a thousand times. "You stop off for a beer after work. You have more than you planned on. You know you shouldn't drive but it's raining or you have tools in the truck that you can't leave, or you've just had a fight with your girlfriend and you're feeling sorry for yourself. Besides, you know you can make it home safe."

Terry was within eyesight of his house when the police car pulled up behind him. And now that breathalizers are in his life, he wishes they were everywhere. Put them in bars, he said. Heck, stick them in phone booths.

His girlfriend, who lives next door, sometimes sprints up and down the fence between them, teasing Terry that she can go wherever she wants while he is on a leash.

The other day she had had one glass of wine when Terry asked her to run an errand for him. "Can't drive," she said. "I've been drinking." Using Terry's breathalizer, she blew a .02 -- well below the legal limit -- and she still wouldn't get behind the wheel.

And now, Terry swears he won't either. But he'll keep the tool to remind himself that he had to learn the hard way.

"I like that Will Rogers saying about how people learn," Terry said. "Some learn by reading, some by observation, and the rest of us have to pee on the electric fence for ourselves."