One would think that state workers would take their jobs seriously, especially when holding a position which could impact public safety. However, recently a snowplow driver in New Jersey risked the lives and property of his community when he performed his job extremely intoxicated. Thankfully, police were able to stop the driver before he caused further damage. The incident is inexcusable considering that it was the suspect’s fourth offense, with the New Jersey Department of Transportation finally taking notice.
Thirty-six-year-old Roger Attieh from Boonton was going about his workday as usual in Pequannock on Monday evening, navigating the streets in a snowplow and dispersing salt on the roads. However, Attieh was under the influence of alcohol so severely, over nine times the legal limit, that he lost control of the massive machinery on multiple occasions.
Initially, Attieh misjudged the distance he had to navigate the snowplow, sideswiping a car. Realizing what he had done, Attieh jumped out of the driver’s seat “to inspect the damage” and attempted to flee the scene. However, he was so impaired that he was unsuccessful in doing so, crashing into another car, reported Captain Chris DePuyt of the Pequannock Police Department.
Police noticed the snowplow driver’s strange behavior and quickly responded. After administering field sobriety and breathalyzer tests, Officer Sean Higgins quickly learned that alcohol was to blame. Attieh had a blood alcohol content of .37%, over “nine times the legal limit for commercial drivers,” which is .04% in the state of New Jersey. While the commercial limit is only half the standard legal limit in the state, a BAC of that magnitude could be a lethal dose for anyone. Responding officers reported that Attieh had difficulty standing upright and smelled strongly of alcohol.
As expected, the penalties are different for driving while intoxicated as a commercial operator. In addition to a fine, possible jail time, mandated hours at an “Intoxicated Driver Resource Center,” and a suspended driver’s license, commercial drivers also have their commercial licenses suspended, which may prevent them from continuing to work.
New Jersey also differentiates the severity of DWI charges by the BAC of the violator. Any blood alcohol content above .10%, as Attieh was well beyond, warrants steeper sanctions, the most inconvenient being a mandatory driver’s license suspension of seven months to one year. Failing to abide by driving laws while on the job ultimately cost Attieh the right to operate a motor vehicle at all for at least half of this year.
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Although Attieh should not be pitied, as his actions could have easily led to a tragedy, especially endangering anyone who would not have been able to quickly move out of his path, such as an elderly person or a child. Luckily, Attieh had a mostly clear path and only damaged cars and not people, but those were still unfortunate surprises for their owners.
Given Attieh’s driving history, it seems irresponsible that he was entrusted with a snowplow to begin with, as Attieh already had three DWI charges on his record, acquired in 2002, 2007, and one in December. Communications Director of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Steve Schapiro insists that it “takes these issues very seriously,” though refused to provide an explanation as to why a repeat DWI offender was permitted to operate dangerous equipment when local news inquired about “the process of background checks and driving records.”
In response, the NJDOT is currently conducting an investigation of the incident, working with Pequannock police. Attieh was arrested immediately following the incident and is facing charges of “driving while intoxicated, driving while intoxicated in a commercial motor vehicle and reckless driving.”
It seems that a legal loophole helped Attieh keep his position as a snowplow operator even after his December DWI arrest. Though he ideally should have lost his right to drive the snowplow immediately after that offense, it is currently still a pending trial with associated punishments awaiting the court appearance in determining his guilt. However, in the time between the December arrest and Monday’s incident, Attieh further proved that he is unsuitable for such a position at this time.
Though Attieh was caught breaking the law and endangering others, thankfully the vehicle he was operating, which could have inflicted much worse damage, was conspicuous enough for law enforcement to take notice as the crime was being committed.
Attieh should have been removed from his position long ago, though this will undoubtedly be his last chance at a profession in the transportation sector. Hopefully he has learned from this incident and will be a more responsible driver and alcohol consumer when he gets his license back. Until then, the story can be used as a reminder, as the New York Post said to “Don’t drink and plow!”