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Echo Press photo by Celeste Beam Deputy Jeff Beck with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office talked with a driver he had pulled over for speeding. The driver was also given a field sobriety test and Breathalyzer, and passed both.

After midnight: Ride-along offers look into how safe Alexandria roads are during the early morning hours

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Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
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Editor's note: The Echo Press recently received an invitation from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office to have a reporter ride along during a deputy's "Safe and Sober" shift. The following is a first-hand account of the experience.

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When I was first asked by Deputy Jeff Beck with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office to do a ride along during his Safe and Sober shift I hesitated because at the time, it was a morning shift, from 10 a.m. to noon.

As sad as it may sound, I didn't think there would be much action, but I said yes anyway. Plans changed, however, and we rescheduled it for Friday, August 27 - this time, from 11:30 p.m. until 2 a.m.

"Perfect," I thought. "Isn't that when all the drunks are out?"

I was pumped; bars close at 1 a.m. and we were going to be on the road, trying our best to catch those who may have had a little too much to drink.

Beck's shift that night started at 9:30 p.m. By the time I hooked up with him at 11:30 p.m., he had already pulled five people over - three speeders, one driver who didn't have his headlights on and one vehicle with a headlight out.

During the Safe and Sober campaign, especially when it's a DWI wave, law enforcement officers aren't as tolerable of traffic violators. The more people they come in contact with, the better chance they have at pulling a drunk driver off the road.

On Friday evening, there were 16 squad cars on duty, including city

police officers, county deputies and state highway patrol officers. Two of the 16 were working Safe and Sober - one county deputy (Beck and I) and one city officer.

Beck and I were in his unmarked squad car, which I thought would be an advantage, but later decided that maybe it didn't much matter.

Our first stop of the night came at about 11:50 p.m. - just 20 minutes after he picked me up. Jeff was following behind a driver who had crossed the centerline a couple of times. To be honest, I hadn't even noticed it until Beck pointed it out. It always amazes me what keen sense of awareness law enforcement officers have. But I guess they have to.

Beck turned his lights on and the guy immediately pulled onto the shoulder. I stepped out of the car with Beck, but stayed back while he went to talk with the guy and check out the situation. A few minutes later, Beck was back at the car grabbing a Breathalyzer tester to check the guy's blood alcohol content.

The reason, he explained later, was because as soon as Beck pulled him over, the guy lit up a cigarette, which could mean the driver is trying to cover up something - as in the smell of alcohol on his breath.

The guy blew a .00 - he didn't have an ounce of liquor in him. Apparently, he was talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend, which is probably the reason he was weaving. Beck gave him a verbal warning.

For the next hour, we drove around the county not finding much traffic - or action - and every driver we came in contact with was going the speed limit, which was surprising. To be honest, I was a little disappointed, but at the same time, delighted to know that maybe motorists aren't as bad as I thought they were. For a Friday night, I expected a lot more bad drivers on the roads, but really, it was kind of deadsville.

At 1 a.m., we finally pulled over another driver - this time, for failure to signal. Again, it was a sober driver.

At 1:35 a.m., a truck with four young adults - three males and one female - went whizzing past us on County Road 42 near Dairy Queen North, perhaps coming from Bug-A-Boo Bay, I thought.

Beck turned on his lights and the truck quickly turned into the parking lot of Holiday Gas Station near the intersection of County Road 42 and Highway 29.

As he walked up to the truck, the occupants seemed to be shuffling around - almost like they were hiding something. Beck noticed this and so did I.

After gathering the driver's licenses for all four occupants, Beck came back to the squad car, although his eyes remained on the truck. Because there was so much movement inside, he immediately got back out of the car, flashlight in hand, and had all occupants of the vehicle step outside. A quick search came up with a couple cans of beer - warm and unopened. It was surely not from that evening, Beck surmised.

In all the commotion, two other squad cars came on scene - one city and one county.

Beck did a field sobriety test on the driver as well as a Breathalyzer test. He passed the sobriety test with flying colors. And he also passed the Breathalyzer test - barely. He blew a .071. But at least he was under the .08 legal limit. With a stern verbal warning given to him, the driver and his occupants were let go.

Even though there were no arrests, it was still interesting to see how the process worked. It was almost like watching an episode of Cops - almost.

Our time together was coming to an end and although it was a quiet evening (thankfully, really), it was still fun and interesting. I actually think Beck wanted a little more action, but he said, "Way to go, Alexandria. Thumbs up!"

It was almost 2 a.m. - 30 minutes left until his shift ended - when we came across a driver speeding on 50th Avenue between Fleet Farm and Menard's.

It was a big truck/SUV with slightly tinted windows. I think Beck's hopes were slightly up when he turned on his lights and the truck pulled off to the side. However, the look on his face when he walked up to the driver told me that our night would end without the arrest of a drunk driver.

But I think the two young girls who were almost sleeping in the back seat were probably going to have a great story to tell the next day about how their mom got pulled over coming home from the American Idol concert in the Twin Cities.

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