EVERETT — The room smelled faintly of vodka. The radio show host slurred his words.
Maury Eskenazi of KRKO 1380 AM was drinking while deejaying.
As part of his annual “DUI Awareness Show” he slams back some cocktails to highlight how alcohol impairs the ability of even a veteran 61-year-old broadcaster to speak clearly, much less operate a car. The show, a roundtable broadcast with a panel of experts, is sponsored by a grant from Snohomish County DUI & Target Zero Task Force.
On the 10th year of the DUI show, Eskenazi drank orange juice laced with 70 proof Smirnoff lemon vodka in a paper cup.
“It is not to make light of getting drunk, but what can happen,” Eskenazi said.
The format is meant to spark a conversation about the impact of DUIs, and to hit home the seriousness.
“Every day almost 29 people in the United States die in an alcohol-impaired vehicle crash,” he said.
According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, in 2017 there were 25,619 DUI arrests statewide, with 278 driver-impaired traffic fatalities in 2016.
“Take DUI as a crime and it kills and impairs more people physically than all other crimes combined,” said Lynnwood police officer Mark Brinkman. “I held a dying girl in my arms from a DUI accident and that still affects me to this day.”
For Brinkman and others on the panel, the show is a holiday tradition, like an annual gathering of old friends who unite for a cause.
Eskenazi was the only one drinking. The others munched on Cheetos and Fritos.
The two-hour show was live. Most topics were discussed in 4-minute segments that were intermixed with classic rock. As listeners heard “Green-Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf, Eskenazi mixed up a fresh drink on the makeshift bar where an empty can of peanuts served as an ice bucket.
A boisterously chatty guy, it was hard to determine when the alcohol was doing the talking or if it was just Maury being Maury.
Eskenazi blew into a breath test at intervals. The device that calculates blood alcohol content is a metric of intoxication but isn’t the definitive test of a person’s impairment.
After two shots, Brinkman put him to his own test while listeners heard music.
“Let’s try this, Maury: ‘Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,’” he said.
Eskenazi butchered a “peck” into a “pack” and Brinkman told him he failed the test.
“Is that what you do … when you pull someone over for a DUI?” Eskenazi asked.
No, it is not one of the official sobriety tests.
After three shots Eskenazi was blowing .058 and jovially calling everyone in the room his best friend.
He was below the .08 legal limit, but would you want him to be behind the wheel of a car?
“If your ability to operate a motor vehicle is diminished in any appreciable degree then you very well may be prosecuted for driving under the influence,” said Snohomish County prosecutor-elect Adam Cornell. “Why even take a chance?”
In addition to legal ramifications, a DUI can cost $10,000 to $15,000 in attorney fees, he said.
State Farm agent Teri Busch explained the impact a DUI infraction has on insurance rates. “It will go up. That’s a given,” she said.
DUIs are preventable.
“We’re not saying don’t go out and drink and have fun with friends,” Brinkman said. “Plan ahead … Leave your car home. Have a designated driver. A designated driver is not the one who had the least to drink. It is someone who has had zero drinks.”
Target Zero manager Stacey McShane said about 100 DUI arrests are made a day in Washington this time of year. In 2010, a relative was killed by a drunk driver who had two prior DUIs.
“The statistics are getting worse,” Brinkman said. “People who are involved in crashes and getting hurt and deaths being caused by impaired drivers are actually on the increase.”
The mix of cannabis and alcohol is the reason for the spike, he said.
“The impairment increases when you combine those two drug categories.”
That’s why people do it, to get more wasted, and yet still think they can drive.
It’s not safe, or legal, to drive after using marijuana, Brinkman said.
Capt. Tom Dixon with state Liquor and Cannabis Board enforcement pointed out the widespread accessibility, with about 500 cannabis retailers in the state.
The show included part of a pre-recorded interview Eskenazi did with a mother whose son and his girlfriend were killed in a pot-related crash that was caused by the son. She detailed the tragic impact on her and the girlfriend’s families. The mom was not at the roundtable.
After six shots in 2½ hours, Eskenazi was at .077.
The amount a person weighs affects the reading. He said he weighs 230 pounds, sucking in his stomach.
Legally, he was below the limit, but said he was not fit to drive. He hadn’t planned to, anyway.
One of his “best friends” on the expert panel gave him a ride home.
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