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Under the limit can still be a DUI

Courtesy photo

One thousand one. One thousand two. One thousand three.

As Alex Bunton counted, she stood with her foot raised off the ground, trying to balance so she could pass a field sobriety test.

Officers from the Wichita Police Department watched as she attempted the one-leg stand and two other tests that made up the field exam.

"I thought I did OK, but I guess I failed it," Bunton said.

Despite struggling with the test, Bunton, a volunteer at T-95's "Don't Drink and Drive Show," stayed below the legal limit of 0.080 when officers tested her breath-alcohol level. She'd had 5 ounces of rum mixed into her Pepsi.

Simply staying below the limit, though, isn't enough, said Detective Rick Baker.

Based on people's driving and performances on the sobriety test, police can arrest them for driving while impaired, even if they blow less than 0.080 — something Bunton didn't realize until Thursday.

"I thought you had to be over the limit to be arrested for a DUI, but you could be under and still be arrested, and I had no idea about that," she said.

Bunton and five other volunteers started drinking at 9 a.m. for the 17th annual event as police officers monitored their progress. Sitting amidst laughter and chatter at the Patrol West Community Police Office, some participants started a game of Texas Hold 'Em — raising each other drinks for each hand dealt.

Each hour, officers performed the field and breath tests, until the volunteers eventually reached and exceeded the legal limit.

"It just surprises me on how much you can drink and then you think you're OK, but when you blow into the machines they have here, you're over the limit. And even though you can feel fine, legally you're not fine," said volunteer Rob Rogers, who blew a 0.077 in his second test.

Despite the event's spirited atmosphere, Baker said it aims to show that alcohol can seriously impair people's senses, even if they are not legally intoxicated.

"If you had a beer or two and you were driving on the street and a child ran out in front of you, you would be impaired enough where it would slow your reflexes down," Baker said.

Instead of driving drunk, lawyer Chris Pate said people should consider other options, like calling a cab or using a designated driving service.

With fees for lawyers, alcohol treatment, probation and fines, he said a first-time DUI could cost about $5,000 — which he said more than pays for cab rides for a couple of years.

"It's not a real smart game to play with yourself of, 'Well, I've only had a couple so I think I can drive,' and then you're rolling the dice and risking a DUI," he said.

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