Alcohol conviction: Crashing ABC agent guilty of DUI, appeals
It was a case of too much alcohol for an alcohol agent. According to testimony heard July 13 in Albemarle General District Court, an officer with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control slammed an ABC vehicle into a stopped truck on U.S. 29 and then registered .14 blood alcohol level.
Witness Jonathan Lippert testified that he was sitting at a stoplight in his Silverado on southbound 29 at Airport Road on March 4 and watched in his rearview mirror as a silver Impala with flashing law enforcement lights zoomed up behind him.
"I realized he wasn't going to stop," Lippert testified. "I braced, and he hit me."
Lippert got out of his truck and walked back to the car occupied by the ABC's Special Agent Eric Allen Jones, age 51, of Waynesboro.
"I noticed he didn't have a seatbelt on at that time, and I smelled the odor of alcohol," Lippert testified, also noting a deployed airbag, the windshield broken from Jones' head, and an agent whose demeanor concerned the witness, a U.S. Marine.
"What I observed was Mr. Jones stumbling around and not walking straight," Lippert testified.
According to the ABC website, ABC special agents are certified police officers with statewide authority not only to make arrests for alcohol violations, but also to make arrests for other violations of state criminal law. In this case, however, a member of the Virginia State Police took charge of the scene.
State Trooper Scott Miller testified that Jones initially claimed to be heading downtown to serve a warrant, thus the activated lights and siren. But then Jones conceded it wasn't really an emergency, the trooper noted, and Jones offered that he drank a beer with dinner at Northside Restaurant in Ruckersville.
Perhaps aware that a single beer typically can't raise a man's blood-alcohol level above .02, Miller asked Jones to perform several field sobriety tests. Jones allegedly flunked the one-legged stand, the forward count to 30, and the venerable heel-to-toe walk.
"I placed him under arrest, read him his Miranda rights, and transported him to jail," said Miller, who administered a breath test at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, where Jones blew the .14 blood alcohol level reported in court. A level of .08 is considered driving under the influence in Virginia.
Judge William Barkley found Jones guilty, and Jones' attorney, Frank Mika, immediately noted an appeal.
Jones, who did not testify in court, has been on unpaid administrative leave since his arrest pending the outcome of an internal investigation, says ABC spokesperson Becky Gettings. She refuses to confirm whether Jones was on duty when he crashed into the stopped pickup, again citing the pending investigation.
As for whether a DUI conviction and the crash of a state-owned car could threaten the job of an ABC agent, Gettings says the matter falls under the state Standards of Conduct, and she declined to elaborate.
Updated 7/19/10 with the ABC's refusal to disclose whether Jones was on the job or not when he was arrested.