Tom Durkin: Busted! A cautionary tale | TheUnion.com
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Tom Durkin: Busted! A cautionary tale


1998. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I was hanging out at a friend’s house in Colfax, having a few beers and tokes. It was getting dark, time to go, so I had a bottle of water for the road.

I headed down I-80 toward home in Weimar. Damn! My brake warning light flashed on. I lived with my girlfriend at the bottom of a long, steep hill on West Weimar Cross Road. So, when I took the exit, I pulled onto the wide shoulder of the off ramp.

I made several test runs up and down the shoulder, then braked hard. Satisfied my brakes would probably get me home, I drove off the exit ramp and turned right across the railroad tracks to head on home.



The deputy was waiting for me. He’d seen my headlights going back and forth in the trees, but he couldn’t see what I was safely doing. Nevertheless, suspicious behavior, probable cause.

It was the beginning of maximum DUI enforcement for the Thanksgiving holiday. I was subjected to a field sobriety test, something I couldn’t pass stone cold sober.



The deputy breathalyzed me: 0.11. He didn’t have to tell me: I wasn’t going home that night.

I didn’t say anything when he told me to put my hands behind my back so he could cuff me. Resistance was futile.

He made sure I didn’t hit my head when he put me in the back of the patrol car. He advised me not to struggle because the handcuffs would only get tighter.

The deputy took his damn sweet time checking in with dispatch and driving back to the jail in North Auburn. Later, in DUI school, I learned cops do a slow roll to the jail because most drunk drivers have had “one for the road.”

They blow higher numbers when they get booked into the jail.

On our leisurely drive back to the pokey, the deputy tried to tell me what was going to happen. I wasn’t listening. Or talking.

I was taking the advice of a deputy public defender I knew: “Shut the f*** up!”

Almost fortunately for me, my “one for the road” had been a bottle of water. I blew 0.09 at the jail.

“Aw, too bad,” the jail deputy laughed. “You almost made it.” A 0.08 would have maybe let me walk.

They locked me in a room with a phone. I called my future ex-wife. She, who shall not be named, got hysterical. Full-on drama queen. (And I later married her?)

She did, however, use her ex-husband’s alimony money to bail me out.

I learned later I could have gotten out in the morning on my own recognizance. Of course, that would have required being deloused and arraigned before a judge in an orange jail jumpsuit.

Around 4 a.m., I was told I was being released — just as soon, and only if, I signed a release saying I hadn’t been arrested. What?!

For the next several hours, days, weeks, months I suffered verbal abuse from aforementioned future ex-wife. (What was I thinking?)

I was treated better by people who didn’t arrest me.

It gets worse. Driver’s license suspended for six months. Insurance canceled. A job in North Natomas (Sacramento) and no way to get there.

As luck would have it, I found Debbie on a ride-sharing app. Not only did she live in Weimar, she worked only blocks away from my gig in North Natomas. She drove. I bought gas. We’re still friends 23 years later.

Of course, I had to pay to go to DUI school. I actually liked it and got a lot out of it.

I hired Bob, the best DUI lawyer in Auburn, to hear him tell it.

At trial, the deputy testified honestly. He couldn’t see me, just my back-and-forth headlights in the trees. I had photos and proved I had safely tested my brakes on the shoulder of the exit ramp. While suspicious, I had done nothing wrong.

With no traffic offense and only .0.01 over the legal limit, I was a prime candidate for a “wet reckless,” a less serious charge than driving under the influence.

But no. I was an ex-reporter, and the assistant D.A. had a serious jones to take down a reporter. He insisted on a DUI conviction.

And the judge gave it to him, but the sentence for me was light: time served, DUI school and no community service. I just had to pay about $5,000 in fines and costs.

It’s been said lessons will be repeated until learned. I’m a fast learner. That was my first, last and I hope only DUI.

Drive carefully, y’all. Don’t drink and drive.

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City.


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