Concern and confusion over swab/blood test checkpoints

ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Rumors are circulating after a series of weekend roadblocks where people had their mouths swabbed, gave blood samples, or did both at several locations in Saint Clair County.

A number of people thought authorities were collecting DNA samples, but investigators say it was actually a voluntary traffic safety study and law enforcement wasn’t doing the swabbing

The timing of the tests didn’t help any after the recent Supreme Court ruling that allows law enforcement to collect DNA samples from any arrested person.

People who rolled up on one of these roadblocks which happened in the middle of the day and the middle of the night at five different spots around the county might have been shocked at what was going on, but we’re told that it’s all voluntary and all about traffic safety research.

Lt. Freddie Turrentine with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office says the mouth swabs and blood samples will be screened for alcohol and other drugs- from prescription medication to over the counter and illegal drugs, but not DNA.

He says off duty deputies took part in the roadblocks, but the checkpoints were part of a study paid for by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and compiled by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. He says it’s not DNA testing.

“They was looking for impaired driving is what they was looking for. They’re trying to get, they’re trying to do 60 sites across the country from June to October,” said Lt. Freddie Turrentine.

They’re trying to collect 7500 samples for a database, according to Lt.Turrentine.

“… to help in the future,” said Turrentine.

Rumors about DNA testing and confusion about the agencies involved led to a flood of questions on the Pell City Police Department Facebook page and a ton of phone calls, but Pell City P.D. Chief Craig Turley says the police department was not involved.

Lt. Turrentine says the testing was all voluntary, the data collected is not linked to a person’s name, license plate other identifying information, and the donors were compensated for their participation.

“All voluntary I mean you was told you can go over here and participate or you can keep driving,” said Turrentine. “If they did a swab, mouth test swab, they got ten dollars; if they actually let them draw blood they got 50 dollars for that. If they did both they got sixty.”

Several people shared their opinions with us but were not willing to go on camera.

“I think it would help out a lot with drunk driving and you know the roads would be a little bit more safer so I wouldn’t have an issue with it,” said one driver.

One woman was fired up, but not afraid to go on camera.

“I don’t see how that can be legal,” said Estelle Forman. “But above all no I don’t think it’s, I don’t think it’s a good thing to do. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. And if you want, I mean you can get DNA, but not on the side of the road.”

This was about long term data and not arresting people for being intoxicated, but there was one arrest of a driver who had an outstanding warrant and tried to run from a deputy- according to the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office.

“A guy turned around, one of the deputies went after him, he had a warrant on him so he was arrested, but it had nothing to do with the roadblock,” said Turrentine. “He had an outstanding warrant and he took off running and the deputy went after him.”

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