By Dug Begley and St. John Barned-Smith
UT OF CONTROL: Drivers impaired by booze and drugs are dying — and killing — in the Houston area at a startling rate, an epidemic unchecked by police, prosecutors or public-awareness campaigns. A Houston Chronicle analysis reveals why, and what we need to do about it.
Impaired driving in Texas doesn’t start and end with the 12-pack or the little brown bottle. It’s also in the medicine cabinet.
In Houston and across the country, police contend with drivers high on prescription drugs, PCP and painkillers. And detecting drug impairment isn’t anywhere near as easy as smelling alcohol or reaching for a breathalyzer.
“Someone on ecstasy is not going to look like someone on alcohol,” said Sgt. Erik Burse with the Texas Department of Public Safety office in Conroe.
More than 35 percent of the 2,608 Texas drivers found with hydrocodone in their system from 2015 to 2017 were apprehended in the southeast Texas DPS region dominated by Houston. More than half the 1,593 Texans found with Carisoprodol — a powerful muscle relaxant — were driving on streets around Houston. Half of those driving in Texas who tested positive for etizolam, another sedative, were found in the Houston region. (Houston, however, trails other areas in the state in surveys involving drug use.)
In several high-profile cases, officers have allowed drivers impaired by drugs to leave the scene of crashes — decisions with lethal consequences.
OUT OF CONTROL: Houston is ‘ground zero’ for drunken and drugged driving
Three years ago, Blaine Boudreaux, then 34, got into his black Dodge Ram and set into motion a deadly, hours-long path of destruction that claimed two lives and sent three others to the hospital.
Boudreaux, who authorities said moved to Houston from Louisiana around 1999 after two previous DWI arrests, first crashed around 3:30 p.m. on April 26, 2015, in the Texas Medical Center. Police responded to the crash and ticketed him for failing to control speed but didn’t arrest him. Two people in the car he hit were hospitalized.
After he left that crash, Boudreaux is accused of driving several miles west and rear-ending a 72-year-old man at Weslayan and Westpark at about 5:30 p.m. Police responded to that wreck, too, but again allowed Boudreaux to drive away. Half an hour later, prosecutors say, Boudreaux drove several miles east, only to crash into a homeless veteran sitting on the side of the road near the University of Houston.
UPDATE: Jury finds Boudreaux guilty of murder
The crash killed Leonard Batiste, 61. Boudreaux fled the scene, prosecutors say, then took a right onto Lockwood and traveled north, leaving behind his bumper and license plate. Two miles away, at approximately 6:10 p.m., Boudreaux crashed again, hitting a Honda Civic carrying Cynthia Medrano and her 6-year-old son, Joshua. The crash injured Cynthia and killed Joshua.
After they arrested him, Boudreaux told police he was taking a drug used to treat opiate addiction. He faces murder charges.
Matthew DeLuca, his attorney, said Boudreaux maintains his innocence and is awaiting trial.
“We look forward to presenting his case at trial,” he said.
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