Saliva and blood samples taken in St. Clair and Bibb Counties - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Update: Gov. asks Secretary of Law Enforcement to investigate roadside surveys in St. Clair Co.

Posted: Updated:
Governor Robert Bentley. (abc3340.com) Governor Robert Bentley. (abc3340.com)

Update:

John Lacey with Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation spoke with ABC 33/40 about the research. The Maryland based company was responsible for taking the roadside samples.

Lacy tells us they've done this research since the seventies. He says up until 2007, they only tested for alcohol impairment. Then they began testing for impaired driving due to prescription drugs as well. He says blood and saliva are the best ways detect drugs a breathalyzer can't.

"So you can't get that through a breath test. And it's just the most accurate way to get a good estimate of the number of people who are out on the roads with prescription, over the counter and illegal drugs," said Lacey

Once the fluids are collected, Lacey says they send the saliva and blood to a company called Immunalysis. He says that company tests the fluids for the presence of alcohol and drugs.

Pacific is responsible for taking those results and passing it on to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Admin.

Both the NHTSA and PIRE deny they are getting DNA. In fact, PIRE says Immunalysis doesn't even have the capabilities to do that.

We have reached out to Immunalysis, and we are waiting for a response.

-------------------------

Update:

Tuesday morning Governor Robert Bentley asked his Secretary of Law Enforcement, Spencer Collier, to investigate the roadside surveys in Bibb and St. Clair Counties.

Bentley says he had no clue the roadside surveys had taken place until Monday morning. He says it's his job as governor is to look further into what happened. He wants to know who authorized the survey, exactly what the testing is for, and how the results will be used.

Bentley is clear that he doesn't think it's wise to overreact until more details come to light. In fact, he said he doesn't have reason right now to believe anything illegal was done.

However, he did say, on the heels of news about government surveillance programs,  he wants to make sure people's rights were not violated in any way.

"I don't think anything illegal took place. However, I do want to make sure that people were not detained longer than they should've been because that is a violation of the Fourth Amendment and is a violation of illegal search and seizure. So we just need to make sure than people's rights are respected," said Bentley.

Also, ABC 33/40 received the following comment regarding the surveys from Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange via email:

"I learned about this from news reports. I am shocked. This is very troubling and I intend to get to the bottom of it."

Information released from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

"The NHTSA is conducting a study called the 2013 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drugged Driving.

"The Office of Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is contributing funding and support. NHTSA has contracted with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) to conduct this project. PIRE has a number of research teams who will conduct the surveys in the field. There will be 60 sites across the country, vehicles will be randomly selected from the traffic stream and drivers asked to participate. Participation is voluntary, all data is anonymous. The protocol for this survey is well-established and consists of: collection of voluntary breath, oral fluid, and/or blood samples and questions on use of alcohol and drugs.  Data will be collected in the summer and early fall of 2013

Research Objectives

This national roadside survey will estimate the prevalence alcohol and drug use by drivers:

Drivers Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Drivers with the presence of various (over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal) drugs in their system, and

Drivers with alcohol and other drugs in their system

Background

Four previous national roadside surveys were conducted in 1973, 1986, 1996, and 2007

This survey will be only the second time we obtain data on drug use by drivers

The survey will provide important trend data for alcohol- and drug-positive driving

Results of the 2007 Survey can be found at www.nhtsa.gov : Search under "2007 National Roadside Survey"

-----

A community is outraged over weekend road blocks in St. Clair county. A research firm was collecting DNA samples as part of a National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration funded study aimed at reducing impaired driving.

Off-duty deputies were paid to assist with the roadblocks. Anyone who stopped at one of four roadblocks Friday or Saturday nights were asked if they were willing to give samples of DNA.

It was taken through saliva and blood samples, and participants got money in return. The question that has a lot of people on social media on edge is "what exactly is the DNA being used for?"

Erika Skeivlas and her eight year old daughter were riding along Highway 34 Friday night when she approached a roadblock. After being asked to participate in a survey, she agreed.

"They do a swab. It was actually one of the assistants that took the swab. And then I took a brief survey on an iPad. And then I proceeded to the phlebotomist who explained to me what he was doing and then he took a little sample of my blood," she said.

Skeivlas was paid sixty dollars for participating. She was handed this sheet of paper explaining that the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation was conducting the survey. The paper also said the survey is funded by the National Highway Traffic  and Safety Administration to "better understand impaired driving on our nation's roadways."

"Basically they were asking how much over the county or prescription medication you take how many times a day do you take it. Do you drink alcohol. Do you drive after drinking," said Skeivlas.

Four off duty St. Clair County deputies assisted with the roadblocks both Friday and Saturday nights. They posted up between the hours of 10-pm and 3-am on County Road 54, Highway 34, Highway 231, and Highway 44.

However, Lt. Freddie Turrentine wants to be clear that the deputies were not responsible for taking DNA samples. He says this is not the first time his deputies facilitated roadblocks for this study.

"The last time we did this was the end of 2007 or the beginning of 2008, and this time. It's about every five years," he said.

Social media comments from people living in St. Clair county question the motives for collecting DNA.

"There were big signs on the side of the roadblocks that said paid survey. We weren't trying to trick anybody or intimidate anybody. If they wanted to do it, they did. I had several people who said I'm not interested and kept on driving," said Turrentine.

ABC 33/40 made several attempts to reach out to Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. However, our calls were not returned.

As for the NHTSA, a spokesperson says they are working on answers to our questions as to "why" DNA samples were needed for a survey related to impaired driving.

We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.

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