published Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Alabama governor seeks review of roadblock surveys

PELL CITY, Ala. — Alabama’s governor and attorney general are reviewing weekend roadblocks in St. Clair and Bibb counties where motorists were asked for breath, blood and saliva samples.

Gov. Robert Bentley said Tuesday he has asked his secretary of law enforcement, Spencer Collier, to look into what happened. The governor said he has questions about how and why the surveys were carried out and what is being done with the information collected.

“We’ll do everything we can to get to the bottom of the issue and make sure that the rights of our citizens are protected,” Bentley said.

State Attorney General Luther Strange said he learned about the activities from news stories. “I am shocked. This is very troubling and I intend to get to the bottom of it,” Strange said in a statement.

Off-duty officers in the two counties were used to set up the roadblocks for the study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. They were part of a series of roadblocks nationwide to study alcohol and drug use by motorists. The study is funded by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Lt. Freddie Turrentine of the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, supervisor for the roadblocks, said the survey was voluntary and driver’s licenses were not checked.

Turrnetine and Bibb County Sheriff Keith Hannah said both counties participated in the same surveys in 2007.

A motorist who participated early Saturday morning, 32-year-old Erika Skeivelas, told AL.com that it didn’t seem completely voluntary because two deputies had their blue lights flashing and stopped vehicles. “I tend to do what an oifficer tells me,” she said.

Jose Ucles, a spokesman for the NTSB, said motorists received $10 for a mouth swab and $50 for a blood test. If they declined to participate, they were free to drive away.

“The data is anonymous,” he said.

Ucles said national surveys were done in 1973, 1986, 1996 and 2007, but this is the second time a survey has obtained data on drug use by drivers. He said the national survey uses officers to stop traffic for safety reasons.

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