Austin city council says officers not blood collectors

Last Updated on July 31st, 2017

Austin City Council members  approved a resolution last week saying it is their “clear will” that police officers not personally collect blood from people suspected of driving while intoxicated.

During the meeting, police leaders told the council that they have abandoned plans to train a group of officers to act as phlebotomists.

Police Chief Art Acevedo had previously said he was interested in teaching officers to collect blood evidence, setting off a public debate that went on for months.

Assistant City Attorney David Douglas told council members before their vote that barring Austin officers from collecting such evidence could conflict with state statutes, which require officers ‘to use “all lawful means” to enforce the law.

Civil libertarians oppose police officers taking blood, saying it could put the city at risk of lawsuits if a suspect is injured. They also said they thought city officials should instead focus their efforts on programs that would prevent drunken driving, such as offering free taxi rides for intoxicated motorists.

The police department is now exploring other options and told council members that police officials have been, and will continue to, have blood drawn at Austin hospitals.

Austin police administrators also are in talks with Travis’ County Sheriff Greg Hamilton about creating a partnership in which blood would be drawn by phlebotomists at the county’s central booking facility.

Crash suspect has DWI

Last Updated on July 31st, 2017

A 23-year-old Austin man who was charged with murder after a fatal wreck Monday had been convicted in three drunken driving cases and had gotten his license back just over a month ago, according to his arrest affidavit and court documents.

Jaime Bonilla Alvarado, who also goes by Donnie Noel Bonilla, was charged with first-degree murder in the fatal wreck.

His three previous drunken driving offenses occurred in 2006 and 2007 in Travis County and were resolved at the same time.

Alvarado received a sentence of 80 days in jail for the three offenses and lost his driver’s license for one year. According to court documents, he was to receive his license back July 22.

A little more than a month later, Alvarado caused a collision that killed 64- year-old Robert Joel Benn, according to the arrest affidavit.

Leading up to the crash Monday night, a police officer saw Alvarado driving dangerously in his Lincoln Navigator in East Austin. While following him, the officer reported that Alvarado ran several red lights and threw two glass bottles with liquid in them out of the window.

At the intersection of Airport Boulevard and Bolm Road, police said, Alvarado ran a red light and struck Benn’s vehicle. Benn had just arrived in Austin from Tennessee on business.

Alvarado faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Karen Housewright, the state director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said that after three drunken driving offenses, Alvarado had proven himself to be irresponsible and that more should have been done to prevent him from driving.

“Here’s a guy who shouldn’t have been on the road,” Housewright said.

Under state law, a person’s third drunken driving conviction makes the offense a third-degree felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison.

After the second offense, state law calls for a breath-analyzing device to be installed in a person’s vehicle to inhibit the engine from starting if the person has been drinking. It was unclear whether Alvarado’s vehicle had such a device, which is usually required for a year once the driver’s license is reinstated.

“We’ll never know what we could have done to prevent this fatality from occurring,” Housewright said. “It’s just so appalling that somebody with three prior (convictions) was driving at all.”

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said Alvarado is an example of why the department has taken an aggressive stance against drunken driving.
“The death of Mr. Benn — a man who on the day his grandchild was born his life was violently taken away,” Acevedo said. “That family needs justice, and we need to ensure that this defendant, who has continued to put people in this city and county at risk, is locked away.”

Alvarado was being held in the Travis County Jail on Thursday evening, with bail set at $760,000. He also has been charged with evading arrest or detention with a vehicle, a state jail felony, and also was being held on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer.

Blood collected under new law

Last Updated on July 31st, 2017

Austin police early Tuesday drew the blood of a drunken driving suspect — without a previously required search warrant who was involved in a crash and had an 11-year-old boy in the car.

The incident happened 28 minutes after a new law took effect that gives police wider authority in the types of cases in which they can draw blood without a search warrant, Austin police Cmdr. Donald Baker said.

Under the new law, authorities may collect the blood of drunken driving suspects if a child younger than 15 is in the car.  The law also gives officers the option to draw the blood of drunken driving suspects without a search warrant if a crash results in an injury that requires hospitalization, among other criteria.

Baker said police responded to a call early Tuesday about the crash in the 3400 block of West William Cannon Drive near Brodie Lane.  The driver, Son Do, 35, faces a charge of driving while intoxicated, a state jail felony, court records show.

The boy was released to his mother, Baker said.