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Police use discretion in treatment of drunk drivers

Mar 27 2012

Two similar drunk-driving crashes in the capital region during the weekend ended up with very different penalties for the drivers, highlighting the large amount of discretion police exercise in impaired cases.

On Friday night, a drunk driver hit a telephone pole on Burnside Road near Balfour Avenue. He was caught fleeing the scene by Victoria police.

The Mazda pickup truck involved had wood from the telephone pole lodged near the front tire and the driver showed obvious signs of impairment, police spokesman Mike Tucker said.

The 25-year-old driver didn't have a B.C. driver's licence, having moved here from another province.

The man blew a fail on a roadside screening device and was given a 24-hour administrative driving prohibition. His truck was impounded and he was given tickets for failing to remain at the scene, driving without a licence and driving without consideration. It totalled $840 worth of tickets, but included no charges under the Criminal Code.

Early Saturday, a 26-year-old Esquimalt woman crashed into two parked cars and struck a tree in the 1200 block of Bewdley Avenue.

Several people called 911. Victoria police officers arrived at the scene to find the woman injured and showing signs of being drunk.

She was taken to hospital and gave a breath sample that was well above the legal limit. Police are recommending a criminal charge of impaired driving.

When the province introduced the 90-day immediate roadside prohibition penalties under the Motor Vehicle Act in September 2010, police said they would proceed with criminal charges of impaired driving if a driver caused a crash that injured someone or caused considerable property damage.

No one from the Victoria police traffic section was available to comment Monday, but Tucker said officers often use their discretion in considering case circumstances and suitable penalties.

Defence lawyer Michael Mulligan, who specializes in drinking and driving cases, said the level of impairment and prior offences are two factors police take into consideration when deciding whether to lay criminal charges.

"I think in most cases, police officers exercise their discretion appropriately," Mulligan said.

On Thursday, a 38-year-old Sooke man with a history of drunk driving was charged after he nearly ran over an officer with the Integrated Road Safety Unit involved in traffic enforcement on Highway 14 in Metchosin. A black BMW was clocked at 95 kilometres an hour in a 60 km/h zone, and when an officer stepped onto the highway to pull over the vehicle, the driver veered toward him.

The officer had to dive out of the way to avoid being hit.

The car eventually came to a stop at the side of the road. Police say the man reeked of alcohol and blew almost four times the legal limit. He was released on a promise to appear in court and his car was impounded.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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