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Test a sobering experience.

Byline: Rebecca Taylor The Register-Guard

A training room at the city's police academy seemed an odd place to pound a six-pack of Hamms, but that's exactly what Vito Furnari did Friday.

He followed that up with a couple cocktails and ended up registering a 0.19 blood-alcohol level, an impressive feat after three hours of drinking.

He was less impressive a few minutes later, when a group of police officers from across the state ran him through a set of field sobriety tests. And he was not alone.

About a dozen volunteers started tossing back cocktails before noon Friday in preparation for the DUII refresher course hosted by the Lane County Sheriff's Office. The state requires regular training so officers stay abreast of legislative changes and keep their skills sharp.

From behind a portable cooler, a retired sheriff's sergeant doled out cocktails and beer confiscated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and donated to the county. The volunteers blew into intoxilyzer machines every hour. By 3 p.m., most were well above the legal driving limit of 0.08.

Vito Furnari's brother Paul blew a .11 after six or seven drinks.

"I could never even imagine getting behind the wheel in this state," he said.

Paul Furnari is safety coordinator at the Guaranty car dealership in Junction City. He and some co-workers used vacation days to participate in Friday's exercise. They threw themselves into the effort, knocking back gin and tonics like they were free. Which they were.

"It's pretty funny except for the hangover that strikes with the evening news," Paul Furnari said.

Sheriff's personnel escorted the volunteers to and from the bathroom, and it was clear why after the sobriety testing began.

Vito Furnari leaned toward the pen an officer was using to check for nystagmus - that involuntary jerking of the eye that tells police a driver might be drunk.

He struggled to put one foot in front of the other, leaning from side to side and staggering at times.

His friend, Tyler Ceniga, who blew a .17, heckled him from across the room.

"Not even close, Vito," he shouted.

Ceniga was able to stand on one foot and count to 10, but he failed the pen test and seemed genuinely disappointed. He said he was baiting Furnari to make his experience more realistic.

"You get pulled over, you got three buddies in the truck, they're going to be yelling at you," Ceniga explained.

Others had trouble turning around and following commands. Some took their failures personally -- one volunteer insisted the officers who tested her didn't like her.

Although Friday's crowd seemed a happy lot, emotions can get out of control. Deputy Paul Vitus recalled one drinker who got so angry during a past training session that he had to be physically removed from the building.

Since then, trainers have tried to screen out so-called angry drunks. Volunteers sign waivers of liability and arrange for a sober ride home. They also agree to have a family member babysit them afterward to make sure they don't get into any trouble.

Among the volunteers were prosecutors from the Lane County District Attorney's Office, some of whom handle drunk driving cases in the circuit court.

"I think it's critical that the police get good practice executing field sobriety tests in a controlled environment," said Deputy District Attorney Steve Morgan, who said he definitely felt impaired after blowing a 0.05.

His colleagues Jay McAlpern and Emem Ibanga each blew 0.03 and agreed they were not entirely sober.
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Title Annotation:Public Safety
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 27, 2007
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