Texas judge takes no refusal to new level - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Texas judge takes no refusal to new level

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It's no refusal on steroids. In Montgomery County, north of Houston, they're not just going to draw your blood, if you refuse to give a breath sample for a suspected DWI stop they are going to do it in rapid time. They're cutting out the hours officers spend going to jails for warrants and then hospitals for a phlebotomist.

When Montgomery County deputies stop a suspected drunk driver and they refuse to give a breath sample, the district attorney's office responds.

In 2010, the district attorney used forfeiture funds from drug dealers and convicted drunk drivers to purchase what they call the BAT van.

Specialized Prosecutions Bureau Chief Warren Diepraam is typically in the driver's seat. A phlebotomist rides shot gun.

When they meet up with officers on DWI stops, Diepraam assists with the warrant paperwork for a blood draw.

He then sends photos of it to a judge.

In this case, the judge grants approval and the suspect is loaded into the vehicle. Diepraam reads him his rights.

He then gets video as the phlebotomist performs the blood draw.

"So literally within minutes of the suspect being stopped for DWI, we had a blood sample and that's really critical for us as prosecutors because it's right after the time of driving. And that's what the law says, we have to prove their intoxicated at the time they were driving," said Diepraam.

As Diepraam is giving us a re-cap of what just happened, his phone rings again. Another officer has pulled someone over for DWI. This time they will meet at the county jail.

The county's other vehicle of choice is an ambulance. It's the only one in the state like it.

Before Montgomery County implemented the system it was known as the deadliest county in Texas because of the great number of intoxication manslaughter charges per capita. After using the rapid response vehicles, officers are spending less time in jails and hospitals and more time on the roadway catching suspected drunk drivers.

According to the district attorney, fatality stats have dropped 50/ 60 percent, one year even 75 percent.

"We want safe streets, we want scientific evidence and this is the way to get it done faster so we can get those cops back on the street," said Diepraam.

On the night we followed along, Angela Tidwell with the Austin Mothers Against Drunk Driving office also observed.

"This is what it's about, the saturation and to ultimately save lives and I think that's what they're doing here," said Tidwell.

Diepraam says agencies across the state are watching what Montgomery County is doing. That includes Lakeway municipal Judge Kevin Madison.

Madison has long been the go to judge for blood draw warrants. Officers text and email him all hours of the night and he is always quick to respond.

"My involvement as an EMT for over ten years and a firefighter responding to the scenes, seeing the carnage caused by drunk drivers, is probably the reason for my passion in this," said Madison.

He decided to offer his personal RV to help the departments who make up the new regional taskforce.

He will park the RV by the go-to hospital for phlebotomists this Memorial Day weekend to be available to sign warrants for any agency.

"Officers can bring the suspect who was arrested, have the paperwork completed, I can approve the search warrant, they go right next door where the blood draw is to try and shorten that time," said Madison.

He hopes to save the officers who patrol out here precious time, by being able to avoid having to drive all the way to the Travis County Jail.

"The biggest enemy is time, the greater the time, the harder it is to prove the case," said Madison.

He's fought against the other side in the court room.

"They're gonna argue, look my client wasn't drunk when they were driving, they had just slammed down three drinks and then three hours later by that time their blood alcohol has spiked and they really weren't drunk at the time they were driving. That's the problem," said Madison.

The RV is just the beginning for Madison. He's concocting a plan to have a phlebotomist join him.

Diepraam hopes that will happen. He says other Central Texas law enforcement agencies should follow Montgomery County's plan.

"We've saved a lot of lives in our jurisdiction, we've cut down our vehicular homicide rates and it works everywhere," said Diepraam.

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