ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Pat Garrett said he was following a drunk driver and knew it was a dangerous situation.
“It was excessive. I mean it wasn’t somebody that was right there borderline. This was somebody who was severely impaired,” Garrett said.
It was March 1 and he was behind a green Ford Fusion near Paseo del Norte and Edith in the early evening. Garrett said the car was weaving. He said the driver swerved on to the side of the road, kicking up dirt. The driver also crossed the center yellow line.
“It wasn’t just hugging the line, it was over by a couple of feet,” he said.
Garrett worried the suspected drunk driver would hit an on-coming car.
“If you’re traveling at 45 miles an hour and the other car is traveling at 45 miles an hour and you hit head-on, which speed is the impact? That’s 90 miles an hour,” Garrett said.
If anybody should know how to spot a drunk driver and the devastating outcomes of drunk driving crashes, it’s Garrett. He’s a 23-year veteran of the New Mexico State Police who’s had extensive DWI recognition training.
“I actually ran the DWI team in Albuquerque for a couple of years,” Garrett said.
He also headed up the #DWI Drunk Busters line before he retired a couple of years ago.
It was on that night last month that Garrett called #DWI to report the driver in front of him.
Whenever anyone calls #DWI from anywhere in the state, the calls routes to the Albuquerque State Police office. The dispatcher then asks the caller’s location and transfers the call back to the area where the suspected drunk driver was spotted.
That can take more time than calling 911 directly.
In Garrett’s case, it took several minutes.
“You’re wasting precious minutes,” he said in an interview with KRQE News 13.
Garrett called #DWI at 6:02 p.m. The dispatcher couldn’t hear Garrett on the line, so either the dispatcher hung up or the call was disconnected. Garrett called back at 6:04 p.m. He gave the dispatcher the vehicle description, even a license plate number.
“I have a gentleman driving all over the road, he’s gone left of center, he’s gone on the shoulder, he can not maintain lanes” you hear Garrett telling the Drunk Busters dispatcher. Garrett said he also thought the two people in front of him were fighting.
“I can see arms flying back and forth,” he told the dispatcher.
Garrett told the man on the phone that he used to be a law enforcement officer.
“This is Lieutenant Garrett, I retired from there about two years ago,” he said.
After telling the dispatcher that he is at the intersection of 4th and Montaño traveling west, the dispatcher said he was going to notify the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. He placed Garrett on hold. The #DWI dispatcher called the BCSO dispatch and phone rang for 20 seconds before someone picked up the line. It took another three minutes for the BCSO Dispatcher to type in all the information about the call which notifies deputies in the area.
By that point, Garrett was tired of waiting. He was approaching the intersection of Coors and Montaño. He hung up with Drunk Busters and called 911 himself around 6:10 p.m.
“I had been on hold for probably three to four minutes and I had become frustrated because I wanted this guy off the road,” Garrett said.
To the 911 Dispatcher, he again described the driver weaving on the road, the possible fight and he also told the dispatcher he was a former officer.
“Want me to stay on?” he asked the 911 Dispatcher. “No, it’s OK. We don’t want– encourage people to follow– don’t want to cause an accident,” the dispatcher said “I use to do it for a living,” Garrett replied.
By this point, Garrett had followed the driver for more than eight miles. The driver approached Coors and Unser. Garrett told the dispatcher that the car was traveling north on Unser.
“I hate to let him go, he’s really bad though, that’s the problem,” he told the dispatcher before they ended the call.
Garrett said he was beyond frustrated.
“If law enforcement officer calls in and says I have something here that’s significant– or a retired law enforcement officer– it’s pretty much a sure thing. It’s no John Q Citizen calling in saying this guy swerved, I think he’s drunk. We know the habits of impaired drivers and this one was extremely obvious,” Garrett said.
The Department of Public Affairs Secretary Scott Weaver who is in charge of the Drunk Busters program said all calls are taken with the same amount of importance.
“We take every call with absolute seriousness, regardless of who the caller is,” he said.
Albuquerque police confirmed they didn’t arrest the driver for drunk driving.
“We did not make contact with that car,” said APD Spokeswoman Celina Espinoza.
Even though the dispatch paperwork shows the call was closed two minutes after Garrett hung up with the 911 dispatcher, Espinoza said the information stays in the computer system in case officers spot the vehicle.
She said officers couldn’t trace the license plate and show up at the suspected drunk driver’s home.
“If we didn’t witness the violation we wouldn’t have been able to cite for it,” she said.
Garrett couldn’t believe police never caught up to the driver. He’s upset the Drunk Busters system caused a delay dispatching his call to officers.
“I’ve always called it a middle-man. It just delays everything. It delays several minutes. In certain instances, that time is crucial,” he said.
Weaver said the Drunk Busters system works.
“It is available to those individuals that may not feel comfortable calling 911,” he said.
He said it’s just one weapon in their arsenal to catch drunk drivers.
The state has been talking about way to update the software to better pinpoint calls automatically like the 911 system does. #DWI is instead an administrative line. To update the software, every city, county, cellular company and law enforcement agency across New Mexico would have to be on board.
Weaver said statistics show 162,000 people have called #DWI in the decade it’s been around. Of those calls, officers arrested 2,571 people for drunk driving.
“We’ve gotten 64 arrests (this year) off of this program,” Weaver said.
That is 64 arrests out of 3018 calls to the Drunk Busters line this year.
It’s unknown how many of those suspected drunk drivers slipped away because of delays. But Pat Garrett now knows that’s what happened with his call.
“How do we not know when he got home or got to his destination, he didn’t beat that person in the passenger car, or the passenger beat him,” Garrett said.