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Pittsburgh police to continue to use breath testers to determine blood-alcohol levels

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Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh police will continue to use breath testers to determine whether a motorist is under the influence of alcohol until the state Superior Court determines the accuracy of such tests, the police chief said on Wednesday.

“We will use them until the court comes down with a final decision,” Chief Nate Harper said before a Westmoreland County teenager gave city and state police three portable breath test units to help officers in the field determine if a motorist who is suspected of being impaired should undergo further testing.

State police decided in late January to use blood, not breath, to determine whether a motorist is legally impaired.

A Dauphin County judge ruled in December that breath tests are not accurate at levels beyond 0.15 percent, which typically result in harsher punishment for those convicted of drunken driving. A motorist is considered impaired in Pennsylvania with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has sent a letter to Harper and the Allegheny County Police Chiefs Association asking them to consider using blood tests for motorists with blood-alcohol levels above 0.15 percent and below 0.05 percent, spokesman Mike Manko said on Wednesday.

Harper said Sgt. Terry Donnelly, who administers the formal sobriety tests city police use to determine whether charges are warranted, recommended the city continue to use breath tests.

“Its results are instantaneous,” Donnelly said. “(The instruments) are calibrated by Allegheny County's Department of Laboratories. The solution used for the instrument comes from an independent lab, and they are calibrated within requirements of PennDOT.”

The portable breath test unit that was given to the city will be used “as another field sobriety test,” Donnelly said.

Madison “Maddie” Downs, a Latrobe Area High School student whose cousin was killed by an intoxicated driver, gave one portable unit to Donnelly and two to state police Trooper Robin Mungo, who is stationed in Moon.

Downs raised $1,000 for her 16th birthday for the Trooper Kenton Iwaniec Memorial Foundation, which purchased the portable units. Iwaniec was a Westmoreland County native who was killed by an intoxicated motorist while the trooper was driving home from work.

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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