Jason Dusterhoft

No-refusal weekend results in 37 arrests

The Austin Police Department cited 37 people for driving while intoxicated this Saturday and Sunday during the no-refusal weekend. Of those DWIs, 16 were obtained with a blood search warrant written by an on-call judge.

Last weekend’s no-refusal initiative coincided Austin’s Republic of Texas Biker Rally. Preliminary estimates put attendance at 40,000 bikers to the Austin area.

APD’s Cmdr. Jason Dusterhoft of the Highway Enforcement Unit said the attention to the event came as a result of last year’s traffic fatalities.

“We looked back at the numbers of the last year’s ROT rally,” Dusterhoft said. “We had three fatalities that were all alcohol-related in three days. That obviously concerns us and we want to do anything we can to stop that.”

Despite the efforts, there were three motorcycle-related fatalities over the course of this year’s ROT rally weekend.

One motorcyclist died in Hays County when he rear-ended a truck Friday morning, but it’s unknown if the cyclist was intoxicated or not.

A Friday morning collision in East Austin left a motorcycle driver in critical condition after he collided with another vehicle. He was transported to University Medical Center at Brackenridge and died the next day. Police believe alcohol may have been a contributing factor.

Another motorcyclist died in a crash Saturday morning in East Austin with an intoxicated SUV driver, according to police sources. 

This year the Austin Police Department cracked down on drunk driving during the annual Republic of Texas Biker Rally with a no-refusal weekend.

An expected 40,000 motorcyclists and motorcycle-enthusiasts were in Austin this weekend for the 17th annual ROT Rally.

Denise Garcia, spokesperson for the ROT Rally, said the event organizers were pleased APD took on the issue.

“It’s an important measure to take,” she said. “We do not encourage drinking and driving — we have full support with the APD on that matter.”

Armando Blanco, a project manager in Construction Services at the University said he has attended the rally for five or six years and supports the no-refusal weekend.

“It’s good. You shouldn’t be drunk on a bike,” he said. “They’re just doing it for the safety of it.”

A notice in the rally’s program guide and signs on the highway alerted visitors and Austinites about the no-refusal weekend.

Last year, there were three alcohol-related traffic deaths during the rally, according to APD. Commander Jason Dusterhoft of the highway enforcement unit said he hopes the no-refusal weekend helped reduce drunk driving.

“We looked back at the numbers of the last year’s ROT rally,” Dusterhoft said. “We had three fatalities that were all alcohol-related in three days. That obviously concerns us and we want to do anything we can to stop that.”

This year, one motorcyclist died in Hays County when he rear-ended a truck early Friday morning, but it is unknown if the cyclist was intoxicated. Another was killed in a crash in East Austin Saturday morning with an intoxicated SUV-driver, according to police sources.

Other crashes left three motorcyclists critically injured, according to local news sources. It is unknown if these accidents were alcohol-related.

A judge was on-call Friday and Saturday nights to write warrants for the blood tests of anybody suspected of drunk driving who would not willingly submit to a breath or blood test.

“If we pull over someone who might be drinking we’ll call over one of [Dusterhoft’s] units and they handle it,” said Srgt. Gary Hanna of the Southwest sector.

About 53 percent of traffic deaths in Austin are alcohol-related, according to APD. Police won’t have total numbers of drunk driving arrests until later today.

A police escort led the rally’s Friday night parade from the Travis County Expo Center, where the event is held, to Congress Avenue. Downtown road closures were erected around East Sixth Street and on Congress Avenue between Cesar Chavez and 11th Streets.

Tourism revenue from the Rally is expected to bring $35 million into Austin, said Julie Hart, vice-president of finance and operations for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We bring people from out of town who wouldn’t normally be here. They leave their money, it circulates through our economy; they go home, and they don’t use our services,” said Hart. “That’s the huge benefit of it.”

Austin police made 29 arrests in the Sixth Street area Saturday night, including 11 arrests for public intoxication. APD designated Saturday and Tuesday part of the No Refusal Initiative to reduce the number of fatalities caused by drunken drivers. “We want to encourage folks to come down and enjoy themselves and enjoy the Mardi Gras festivities, but please do so in a safe and responsible manner, especially when it comes to finding a way home,” said Commander Chris McIlvain of the downtown patrol. Police issued nine Breathalyzer tests and 14 blood tests. Four people voluntarily submitted to blood tests, and an on-call judge issued warrants to obtain blood samples from 10 additional suspects. According to APD statistics, 85 percent of collisions that usually occur between midnight and 2:59 a.m. involve a driver under the influence of alcohol. A judge was on call this Saturday from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and will be back on Tuesday to write warrants for suspected drunken drivers who refuse a breath or blood test. Officers will then take suspects to the Blood Alcohol Content Bus, also known as the BATBUS, to have blood drawn. The DWI Enforcement Team, overtime units and the BATBUS allow regular officers to return to their patrols and prevent them from spending hours on a single DWI case, said Highway Enforcement Commander Jason Dusterhoft. Dusterhoft advised visitors to the downtown area this Mardi Gras to create a plan and to exercise good judgment to follow that plan after they have been drinking. “If that doesn’t happen, my team and all the patrol officers that we’re going to have out here saturating the area will end up taking those people to jail,” Dusterhoft said. Last year, APD made 43 driving-while-intoxicated arrests as a result of the No Refusal Initiative. More than 40 percent of those were double the legal limit, Dusterhoft said. Road closures can be expected Tuesday night in the area around Sixth Street starting at 6 p.m.