SAPD officers cite 'drugged drivers' with DWIs

SAN ANTONIO – When police officers observe a swaying car on the road and initiate a traffic stop to find that the driver's speech is slurred, a common assumption would be that person had been drinking.

Officers on the DWI patrol see this type of behavior all the time, but it's not always a drunken driver.

Sometimes they cite "drugged drivers" with a DWI.

"What causes you to be intoxicated, it could be alcohol, it could be drugs," said Officer Shannon Purkiss, who is one of nine Drug Recognition Expert-certified officers on the San Antonio Police Department's DWI unit. "It is a DWI. I've had so many people say when the cuffs go on, they'll actually start laughing, 'I can't wait to take your breath test. I'm just stoned.' I'm like, 'But you're intoxicated.'"

Purkiss said she can usually spot drugged drivers because they're speeding, committing any traffic violation or causing accidents.

"Once somebody is arrested for DWI, the first thing we're going to ask for is a breath specimen," said Purkiss. "If it comes at a legal limit and their impairment doesn't match, then we start a preliminary evaluation."

Purkiss said officers look at physical signs with the one-leg-stand test, but also clinical signs, like reaction to light.

According to Purkiss, she's also encountered drivers on legitimate prescription drugs and they don't realize they're driving while intoxicated.

"With DWIs, whether it's alcohol or drugs, there's just not a fit," said Purkiss. "It can be the PTA president, a doctor, a nurse. It could be the person who drank under the bridge all day and doesn't have a place to go home to at night and is living out of their car (or) teenagers, anybody."

About the Author:

Stephanie Serna is a weekday anchor on Good Morning San Antonio and GMSA at 9 a.m. She joined the KSAT 12 News team in November 2009 as a general assignments reporter.