Driving under the influence of alcohol has been a prominent issue in today’s society. In Arizona alone, there were more than 27,000 reported arrests for DUIs in 2012.
These numbers can be partially attributed to many drivers’ beliefs that they can handle their alcohol consumption well enough to safely operate a vehicle, and partially attributed to their lack of knowledge of the laws.
Nov. 18, 2012, Staff Sgt. Norman La Voy, 355th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was educated the hard way. La Voy decided to get behind the wheel after several drinks and attempted to make a trip to a nearby convenience store.
Many drivers have the misconception that they are guarded from the law as long as they are not driving whilst over the legal blood alcohol concentration limit. However, according to Arizona statute 28-1381, it is unlawful for a person to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle “if the person is impaired to the slightest degree.”
“I drank too much but I wasn’t thinking about going out,” said La Voy. “I was kind of going through my own personal problems at the time, when I decided that I needed to go on a run to the store.”
While on his way to the convenience store, La Voy drove through a stop sign and crashed into another vehicle carrying three passengers.
Even if a driver’s BAC is under the legal limit, which is 0.08 in most states, an officer still has the right to arrest that individual if they deem the driver to be impaired. In Arizona, a person can be arrested for a DUI if it can be proven they were operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 or higher within two hours of driving.
“When I got pulled out of my vehicle I was pretty disoriented and didn’t really realize what was going on,” said La Voy. “The gravity of the situation really hit me when I realized there were three passengers in the other car.”
While La Voy’s story highlights the strain of beingthe driver in a DUI accident, in the case of Master Sgt. Monique Harris, 355th Operations Support Squadron unit deployment manager, a DUI profoundly affected her life from a different point of view. She was assigned to Osan AB, Republic of Korea when she received a call on Mother’s Day, 2005 from her sister in-law that her husband had just been critically injured in a motor vehicle accident and DUI was the cause.
Her husband had gone out with Harris’ brother for a night out. After they had called it a night and began to return home, her brother, who was impaired, fell asleep at the wheel. Harris’ husband received catastrophic injuries to the right side of his body as the vehicle they were in plowed into the rear end of a semi-truck.
Harris had to immediately make arrangements to leave her position at Osan AB and return to the states to care for her husband. The result was not only the hardship on the family, but also on the Air Force family as well, causing manning to sink below optimal levels and stressing the force in a multitude of ways.
Drivers convicted of a DUI will be given multiple fines that will total at least $1,460, and they will be responsible for installing an ignition interlock device. This device is a breathalyzer that is installed into the dashboard of a car and requires the driver to blow below the programmed BAC level before the engine can be turned on. On average, an ignition interlock device costs between $70 and $150 dollars to install and about $60 to $80 per month for monitoring and calibration.
The aftermaths of the accidents are what would really change La Voy’s and Harris’ careers and lives. La Voy lost his rank and was demoted to Senior Airman, was recommended for discharge by his commander, and has spent roughly $16,000 in fines and legal fees. Harris lost something far greater, her husband. He eventually would succumb to the injuries he had suffered that night on the road and Harris has had to rebuild those pieces of her life.
“For me not being in the situation and not being a drinker, I just couldn’t understand how the whole night went,” Harris said. “I’m all about prevention not intervention. Think about the risk and how your decisions affect others.”
Airmen are subject to other punishments under the uniformed code of military justice. Each DUI is looked at on a case by case situation, but all convicted Airmen could face possible loss of rank, loss of security clearance, court-martial, or administrative discharge to name a few.
La Voy has since met with a discharge board and is currently waiting to hear whether or not his career will be brought to an early end. After dealing with all the adversity and waiting on the ruling for his uncertain future, La Voy is still haunted by his past.
Not only does a DUI hamper progress during an Airman’s career, it reflects poorly on their unit and leadership. There are signs at every base exit that serve as reminders that display the rank, squadron, and number of days since the last D-M DUI.
“I was about a foot away from probably killing somebody,” said La Voy. “To this day I can still remember that person’s face and I’ll never forget that.”