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Getting drunk in the fight against driving drunk

Volunteer Mike Lee takes a breathalyzer test before

Volunteer Mike Lee takes a breathalyzer test before driving a road course at a DWI demonstration. Photo Credit: Audrey C. Tiernan

On most days, Liz Augner coordinates a program that teaches Nassau County high school students about the dangers of driving drunk.

Wednesday, she got behind the wheel bombed.

As part of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demonstration to educate the public about the dangers of drinking and driving, Augner was one of five volunteers who spent the morning drinking, and the afternoon taking sobriety tests and driving a controlled road course.

"I've had six or seven drinks, I've lost track," Augner slurred as she stood in the conference room at Nassau Community College, where she began drinking at about 10:15 a.m. "I'm drunk. You can tell because when I drink my flace [face] gets flushed."

The event marked the beginning of the NHTSA'S national crackdown on drunken driving. State and local police at the event said they will step up drunken driving patrols and enforcement checkpoints in the days around Labor Day weekend, traditionally a time of many drunken driving arrests and crashes.

"Drunk driving can land you in jail at best, and ruin lives and destroy families at worst," Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said at the news conference.

Of the five volunteers, it was Augner - also the only woman - who became the most intoxicated. The volunteers, including two prosecutors, the son of an anti-DWI activist and his friend, had blood-alcohol levels ranging from .087 percent, which is just above the legal limit of .08 percent, to Augner's .15 percent.

Several of the volunteers were able to walk a straight line and stand for 30 seconds with one leg in the air. Even Augner almost managed to walk the line, though she had to stop at one point and regain her balance by waving her arms up and down.

But none of the five could watch a pen cross their field of vision without their pupils shaking "like windshield wipers scraping across a dry windshield," a telltale sign of intoxication, police said.

On the driving course, Augner did what many drunk drivers do - she drove extremely slowly. But when the officer she was driving with told her to maintain her speed and make a right turn, she couldn't do it. She hit the brakes.

The less-drunk volunteers actually did worse. Assistant District Attorney Darryl Levy knocked over at least two cones and a barrel.

"They just looked like an orange line of somethings," he said.

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