A sobering night behind the wheel | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A sobering night behind the wheel

William Ferchland
William Ferchland/Tahoe Daily Tribune Officer Wayne Tillman talks to a speeder along Highway 50 last week. An attempt to find drunken drivers with a reporter riding along proved fruitless during one evening.

Officer Wayne Tillman’s house he has rented for the past four years has gone up in value by $500,000. It’s one fact he shared during a uneventful ride along to nab drunken drivers on a weekday evening.

Tillman, who has been with the California Highway Patrol since 1982, allowed a news reporter to tag along during his patrol May 20.

He had one warning.

“If you don’t mind riding with a laid back guy then I don’t mind,” he said.

Tillman began his career in Oakland where it wasn’t uncommon that one patrol officer could have a drunken driving arrest every night. At South Lake Tahoe, Tillman said the an officer could only have five or six per month.

“But there’s plenty out there so there’s job security,” he said.

The officer has pulled over drivers who registered a 0.39 blood-alcohol level, way above the legal limit of 0.08. Some of the most belligerent people have been closer to the legal level, he said.

When he suspects a driver is drunk, Tillman includes a finger count, an evaluation of balance and the alphabet in field sobriety tests. Some sing, others forget a letter, most slur the alphabet.

Tillman said he doesn’t ask people to recite the alphabet backwards.

“I couldn’t do it if I had to,” he said.

Tillman had two stops May 20. One was a speeder, sober, on Highway 50.

The other had initial promise: a slow, weaving sedan whose driver used the brakes too often. Tillman quickly made a stop. The driver turned out to be a woman from Holland who was trying to reach her sick husband at Barton Memorial Hospital. She was lost. Tillman allowed her to follow him to the facility.

On the way, a driver going the opposite direction on Highway 50 failed to switch from high beams. If it wasn’t for the foreign woman trailing behind, Tillman would have turned the car.

Drunken drivers often have “divided attention impairment,” Tillman said. Basically they’re so concerned about keeping the car steady that they lose focus of other important things such as speed and taking the brights off oncoming traffic.

In the end, there were no drunken drivers found. Tillman believes 90 percent of intoxicated drivers get away with it while the others crash or are caught.

“I think a lot of people are fortunate and have gotten away with it,” he said.

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