Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Collection of blood samples at roadblocks ires Alabamans

Drivers in Alabama over the weekend were concerned as rumors of sporadic roadblocks spread through northeastern Alabama. According to the rumors, which spread quickly on Facebook and other social media, the roadblocks were manned by local law enforcement and agents of the Department of Homeland Security who were collecting DNA samples from drivers.

The rumor seemed to be confirmed by law enforcement officials on the Alabama news site, AL.com. The AL.com report said that law enforcement authorities in St. Clair and Bibb counties had confirmed that the roadblocks took place as part of a research study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

Lt. Freddie Turrentine of the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department told AL.com that the roadblocks were positioned at several locations around the county from Friday through Sunday. Off duty deputies would stop cars and ask for participation in the voluntary and paid survey. Turrentine said that signs at the roadblocks clearly stated that participation was voluntary and for pay. Drivers were offered $10 for a mouth swab and $50 for a blood test. Those who refused were not detained, Turrentine said, even though social media reports had indicated otherwise.

A report on Birmingham’s ABC 33/40 quoted Erika Skeivlas, a driver who participated in the survey. Skeivlas said that researchers swabbed her mouth and took a blood sample after asking her a few questions from an iPad. Skeivlas said, “Basically they were asking how much over the counter or prescription medication you take? How many times a day do you take it? Do you drink alcohol? Do you drive after drinking?”

Skeivlas said that she was given a paper stating that the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation was conducting the survey which was funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to “better understand impaired driving on our nation's roadways.” There was no indication that the Department of Homeland Security was involved in any way.

Jose Ucles, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told AL.com on Sunday that the researchers did not collect DNA, but were testing the volunteer drivers for over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal drugs as well as checking the driver’s blood alcohol content. The results of the tests were kept anonymous and not relayed to law enforcement.

The roadblocks were part of a major driver impairment study at 60 different locations within the country. Previous studies were done in 1973, 1986, 1996 and 2007. Lt. Turrentine confirmed that St. Clair County had also participated in the 2007 study.

Diane Williams, the Pacific Institute’s communications officer, confirmed to Examiner that no DNA samples were taken at the roadblocks. John Lacey, the researcher responsible for the study was not immediately available for comment.

Originally published on Atlanta Conservative Examiner

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