The Talon Investigates the Consequences of Drunk Driving

“Have you had anything to drink this morning/’

That’s certainly a question I had never planned on hearing, let alone in front of the school at 9 in the morning. But on Wednesday, April 30, long before the majority of my peers were even awake, Los Altos police officer Dan Corkern asked me this exact question—and he was not referring to orange juice.

“No, I haven’t. I don’t drink.”

To my delight, I had been recruited to take part in the San Jose Police Department’s annual “Sober Graduation” event along with other journalists from across the county. “SoberGrad” as it is called, is a program designed to educate high school students about the tragic consequences that follow getting a “DUI” (driving under the influence).

Despite the truth in my first statement, I was put through a series of tests and finally pronounced a drunk driver. Sorken then pulled some shiny, cold handcuffs out of his bag, clasped them onto my wrists and put my in the cop car. He then drove me to the town jail and later to the San Jose Correctional Facility where I came face to face with some of the county’s most dangerous inmates.

All drunk drivers are put into a holding tank, a small room which has no furniture and smells potently of feet and sour milk. According to Los Altos police officer Mark Laranjo, the room is often packed with people ,from the unconscious and fatally drunk to those who only took a sip.

“People fall asleep under the benches and throw up on each other … they do their business, but it doesn’t always end up in the toilet,” Laranjo said.

Drunk driving is one of the most common forms of arrest in Los Altos. Although Corkern has never experienced a DUI-related fatality, the deaths of those involved in a drunk driving accident—including drivers, passengers and innocent bystanders—occur horrifyingly often.

At the county morgue, this became painfully clear. During a brief photo display of accident victims, Coroner Rosa Vega showed us the dark and dirty end that followed drinking and getting behind the wheel.

“See those little red flecks all over the seats and dashboard? That’s his brain,” Vega said, pointing to a picture of a man who now looked like a contorted heap of flesh, tied up in a knot of steel.

“You can make some bad choices in your life and go back and apologize and change for the better, but once you’re dead, you’re dead, Vega said. “This is not CSI. This is real. These are real people with feelings and dreams and families.

It may be more real than you think, with death rates skyrocketing in the past few years and counting in at one death every 15 minutes. Additionally, these deaths occur most commonly around this time of year, hand-in-hand with the beginning of summer and graduation parties.

“By taking a drink, you are rolling the dice,” said Officer Rick Stagner of the Sunnyvale Police Department.” You blow a .01 or better, you’ll find yourself in jail.”

Stagner is highly regarded for his efficiency, placing them in the top percentage of policemen for most DUI arrests in the state. Currently he boats pulling over 15-30 cars a night and arresting 3-5 people for drunk driving.

“There are so many reasons I have for pulling you over,” Stagner said. “You have a lot to lose on just one sip.”

For those of us who are graduating this year, jail cells and tombstones are not the ideal graduation gift. Whether you are falling-over drunk or simply “buzzed,” the consequences are the same. And with officers like Corkern and Stagner on the road, why take the chance?

“You made a decision and now your life is ruined,” San Jose Police Officer Scott Freund said. “Is it worth ruining your life to have a drink? I’d say no.”