Paradise cop pursues drunken drivers in honor of his late uncle
He can spot them a mile away.
“They usually drift to the left and right,” said Patrick Feaster, an officer with the Paradise Police Department. “Sometimes they cross a double yellow line.”
And sometimes they hit an oncoming car and an innocent person is killed.
Feaster learned this lesson at a very young age, and he carries it with him like he does his Paradise police badge—right next to his heart.
On May 29, 1974, in Live Oak, Feaster’s uncle, Patrick Dolan, the brother of former Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan, was killed by a drunken driver. He was only 27 years old. Patrick Feaster was born exactly 10 years later and named after the uncle he never knew.
“I have no idea who the driver was or any details of the case,” said the 28-year-old. “I don’t think I really want to know.”
Feaster first learned of his uncle’s death when he was a young boy growing up in Chico. But the story stayed with him while attending Chico High School, Shasta and Butte colleges and Kansas Wesleyan University. His uncle’s death was and still remains a source of inspiration. “It had some bearing on my career choice,” said Feaster. “But it had more of an effect on what I chose to focus on.”
Recently, Feaster was recognized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), having been the top DUI-arresting officer in the Paradise Police Department in 2011, citing 33 drunk drivers. Six months into this year, he’s already more than halfway toward his goal of 50 DUI arrests. “I am always looking for DUI drivers,” said Feaster. “I watch every car in front of me for signs of drifting.”
When confronting a drunken driver, Feaster says he remains calm because it’s unfair to classify all intoxicated drivers the same way. Many are unaware that they’re over the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol limit. In fact, those types of stops are actually the most common and the excuses generally are sincere, he said.
“They usually say things like, ‘I didn’t think I was that bad,’ ‘I only had a few,’ or ‘I only live a few blocks from here,’” he said.
While he doesn’t feel sympathy for this type of drunk, Feaster admitted that there’s a sincerity that—while not excusable—is understandable. “They may have unwittingly had one or two drinks more than they should,” said Feaster, who hopes the drivers learn from their arrests.
Feaster has less patience for drunken drivers on the other side of the spectrum. “These are people who are so impaired they shouldn’t be walking down the street, let alone driving the car,” he said.
He said he’s yet to witness a drunken-driving accident that resulted in death but attributed that to mere luck. Recently, he stopped a driver whose blood alcohol content was 0.20 percent—more than twice the legal limit. Feaster said the driver was so intoxicated that he didn’t administer a field-sobriety test.
“I feared he would hurt himself, because he almost fell down while he was standing in place following my finger with his eyes,” he said.
But it was the driver’s lack of remorse that irritated the otherwise easygoing officer. “He told me I was being too serious about the crime of DUI. He actually said he wasn’t dangerous,” Feaster said.
So out came the handcuffs and into the backseat of his police car the drunken driver went.
Most stupefying are the repeat offenders, whom Feaster called “the worst.”
Are tougher laws the answer? Tighter restrictions on DUI offenders in Virginia took effect July 1, but they’re controversial. Those convicted will be required to have their cars fitted with an ignition-interlock device that ensures drivers are sober by requiring them to blow into a breathalyzer to start the car. In the past, only those with a prior DUI conviction or those arrested with a 0.15 or higher blood alcohol content had to get the device.
Scott Goodman, a Virginia defense attorney, told a Charlottesville newspaper that the device is costly to purchase, install and maintain. “It’s something that affects lower-income people more heavily than those who have the resources to afford this,” he said.
Feaster said the law sounds like a good idea but is impractical.
“People will still drive under the influence of street drugs and prescription medication, which is just as dangerous,” said Feaster.
He added that he thinks the law is too harsh for first-time offenders, and that people will find ways to circumvent it. “It’s not that I’m sympathetic to drunk drivers,” said Feaster, “but [the Virginia law] should be used for persons with multiple DUI convictions,” he said.
Besides, there’s a depressing reality.
“There is no way of stopping them all.”
Believe him, he’s tried.