Utah enacts lowest U.S. drunken-driving limit

FILE PHOTO: Utah Governor Gary Herbert talks about the state's economic development in Salt Lake City, Utah January 11, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

By Tom James

(Reuters) – Utah Governor Gary Herbert on Thursday signed a law setting the blood alcohol limit for drunken driving at 0.05, the lowest threshold in the United States, over strong objections from the restaurant and beverage industry.

The proposal lowers the predominantly Mormon state’s blood-alcohol limit from 0.08, currently the standard across all U.S. states, to 0.05 as of Dec. 31, 2018, to try to improve road safety in the state.

“I signed (the bill) into law to help strengthen Utah’s impaired driving laws and to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths on our roads,” Herbert said in a statement Thursday.

Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said her organization and other industry groups opposed the measure and see it as likely to hurt the hospitality industry in the state.

“It will be punishing those people who drink responsibly, and go out and enjoy an evening,” Sine said.

The American Beverage Institute, a lobbying group, which had previously taken out ads advocating against the measure in newspapers in the state, earlier condemned Herbert’s plan to sign the bill.

Herbert also said he would call a special legislative session to address the “unintended and collateral consequences” of the law, and to help “modify and improve it.”

The National Transportation Safety Board has advocated for a national 0.05 limit, and its representatives testified twice in support of the Utah bill before the legislature, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The board said studies show that impairment starts after one drink, even at blood-alcohol levels as low as 0.04, the limit for commercial truck drivers nationwide.

(Reporting by Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Maryland Bishop Indicted For Hit And Run

A Maryland Episcopal Bishop Suffragan has been indicted on 13 counts connected to a fatal hit-and-run accident last year.

Heather Cook was indicted by a Baltimore-based grand jury on charges including “driving while under the influence of alcohol per se …, driving under the impairment of alcohol, texting while driving, reckless driving and negligent driving.”

“The original criminal charges included manslaughter by vehicle, criminal negligent manslaughter by vehicle, homicide by driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol per se and homicide by driving a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol,” reported Mary Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service.

Cook is accused of killing 41-year-old Thomas Palermo after she hit the cyclist while driving drunk.  She then fled the scene but was chased down by other cyclists and brought back to the crash site.

Witnesses say there’s no way Cook didn’t know she struck someone.

“The windshield was completely smashed in, with a hole on the passenger side, and from the damage of the car, there was no doubt in my mind that was the car,” said a witness to the AP.

Episcopal church officials have asked Cook to resign.

Police Say SXSW Driver Deliberately Targeted Crowd

The case of an alleged drunk driver who drove into a crowd of concertgoers at Austin’s South by Southwest Festival has taken a dark turn.

Police now say that 21-year-old Rashad Owens deliberately drove through the crowd of concertgoers after fleeing from police on suspicion of drunken driving.

“For me from his actions, from what I’ve seen this is an individual that showed no regard for human beings. He plowed through in his attempt to get away,” Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told Fox News.

Owens was scheduled to perform later that night.  He has a long criminal record and the car he was driving had been reported stolen.

Owens killed two people who were riding a moped and before swerving around a police officer that tried to stop him and drove through the crowd.  He was subdued after trying to flee on foot after driving into a taxi.