California DUI Laws

The police officers blend into the thriving party scene, milking
drinks in the corner of a north Fresno bar.

They are undercover — a man and a woman — watching for partiers who
are obviously drunk or are downing drink after drink.

Fresno police are taking enforcement of the California DUI laws to a new level — which officers expect will bring both success and outrage. Saturday night, the traffic unit unveiled a new operation in which plainclothes police officers stake out bars and target drunk patrons. If the heavy drinkers get behind the wheel, officers in unmarked cars follow them and call in marked police cars to pull them over.

Four people were arrested during a four-hour operation at two bars in
northeast Fresno.

"It’s a new idea," traffic Capt. Andy Hall said. "It’s a new way to
address the problem of drunk driving."

Hall say it’s necessary because of a string of DUI collisions — some
of them fatal — in which drivers had come from drinking at a bar or

Gerardo "G" Franco, manager of The Dirty Olive, said he supports
police efforts to get drunken drivers off the road, but putting
undercover officers in bars will make his customers uneasy.

"It completely makes our patrons feel uncomfortable," Franco said.
"They have no idea who is a police officer and who is not."

Franco doesn’t believe it will hurt his business, because he said The
Dirty Olive is doing its best to ensure patrons get home safely.

Tony Brisceno, co-owner of Veni Vidi Vici in the Tower District, said
he believes bar profits will be affected.

"It’ll keep people from staying out so late, having more drinks," he
said. "They might just stay home and buy some alcohol."

Traffic detective Mark Van Wyhe said that while he expects some people
to be upset, he’s trying to make the community a safer place.

"If they’re going out there and they’re being responsible, I don’t
think it should bother them a bit," he said. "I think they should be
happy that we’re trying to prevent others from being involved in a DUI

"We’re not trying to discourage them from going out and having a good
time. We just want them to be smart about it, whether that’s getting a
designated driver or a taxicab."

Van Wyhe and a crew of officers conducted its first-ever bar
surveillance operation on Feb. 10 but didn’t go public with the program
until the second go-round Saturday. In the first one, six people were
cited on DUI charges after undercover officers were inside El Molino Rojo
and El Dorado nightclubs.

Police will target bars in areas that have the most DUI

Saturday night, Van Wyhe focuses on The Dirty Olive and TGIFriday’s.
The operation gets started before two undercover officers are positioned
inside The Dirty Olive, off Friant Road.

As unmarked police cars pull into the parking lot about 10:30 p.m., an
officer notices a man stumbling to his car with a woman.

Van Wyhe follows the man, later identified as Timothy Lancaster, as he
drives a newer-model BMW left onto Fort Washington Avenue. A motorcycle
officer catches up and pulls the car over as it turns onto Champlain

Lancaster, 41, tells police he had been dining with his girlfriend at
Sakanaya restaurant, next to The Dirty Olive. It’s a special occasion:
They just got engaged.

Lancaster tells officer Jason Ciavaglia he had two beers at the
restaurant. But he is cited with DUI after blowing a 0.08 in a
Breathalyzer test, Ciavaglia said.

Back at The Dirty Olive, one of Fresno’s most popular bars, the
undercover officers set up camp in a corner after getting some drinks at
the bar. Van Wyhe and Sgt. Bruce Owen are keeping a low profile outside
in a white sport utility vehicle with tinted windows.

The bar is packed. The officers decide to move around to observe the

An hour passes. As the bar nears its closing time of midnight, patrons
pour into the parking lot. The officers are people-watching from a table
near the door, then move outside and linger.

The next half-hour is the busiest of the night. The plainclothes
officers pound Van Wyhe with phone calls, describing patrons who appear
visibly drunk as they walk out.

Van Wyhe and Owen, in turn, keep tabs on the cars and their direction
of travel, while dispatching patrol units to go after them.

"It’s like someone opened the floodgates," Van Wyhe said. "Everybody
was just running crazy in the parking lot being blatantly drunk."

It results in a spate of traffic stops within a half-mile of the bar.
On nearby Friant Road, three motorists have been pulled over in a
300-yard stretch.

One of them, Thomas Miller Jr., 33, was pursued after Owen sees him
and a passenger urinating on the tires of Miller’s Range Rover. During
the traffic stop, Miller tells police he had four or five beers at The
Dirty Olive. He refuses to take a Breathalyzer test, so officers take him
to have his blood drawn. He is cited with DUI.

Miller’s brother, 31-year-old Tim Miller, stands on the roadside,
sorting out the details of his brother’s arrest with police. He is told
about the new operation.

"That’s dirty," Miller said. "I’m kind of torn with that. I think it’s
good to get drunk drivers off the street. But to go in and sit in bars
and watch people, I think it’s underhanded. â? That’s one
more step the government’s taking, and I don’t like it."

Up the road, 24-year-old Nicole Gonzalez of Clovis is put in the back
of a patrol car. She tells an officer, Mark Bradford, that she works at
The Dirty Olive but is off that night. She told officers she had two
shooters there before leaving. But she, too, refuses to take a
Breathalyzer test and calls her lawyer. She is cited with DUI and taken
away for a blood sample.

After her blood is taken, Gonzalez runs into Bradford. "See you in
court," she says.

"I’ll be there," he replies.

About 1 a.m., the police head to the next bar. When Van Wyhe rolls
into the parking lot of TGIFriday’s, an officer in a marked police car
has mistakenly parked there. Van Wyhe asks him to go somewhere less

The plainclothes officers make their way into the bar. It’s not nearly
as crowded as The Dirty Olive, but at 1:23 a.m., the female officer calls
Van Wyhe to say there are several people who are obviously drunk.

Minutes later, two young women leaving the bar openly talk about
whether they’re sober enough to drive. Van Wyhe calls for motorcycle
officer to follow one of the women, who is driving a white Lexus.

On Herndon Avenue, the officer pulls over 21-year-old Jacqueline
Garcia. She tells an officer she has had two cocktails, and says she is a
recovering alcoholic, Ciavaglia said.

During field sobriety tests, Garcia can’t walk straight or say the
alphabet, the officer said. She is cited with DUI.

TGIFriday’s doesn’t yield any more action. Van Wyhe calls off the
operation at 2:15. He says he is pleased with the results, but next time
wants more uniformed officers to keep up with the flow of patrons.
Meanwhile, he’s expecting a strong reaction from the community.

"There may be people who are offended by officers conducting
surveillance in bars," Van Wyhe said, "but the harsh reality of it is
that people continue to drink and drive, and we’re going to take whatever
measures necessary to stop this senseless crime and save lives."


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