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It took less than one drink to get Shannon Wilcutt busted for felony DUI

The businessman was meeting with clients for lunch at Mimi's Café when he noticed the woman. Sitting a few tables over with her 4-year-old boy, she seemed groggy — yet she was drinking a mimosa.

It got worse. The woman ordered a glass of white wine, then another. She was so out of it, the businessman would later write in a statement to police, that she looked ready to fall asleep at the table.

When the woman paid her bill and left the restaurant, the businessman was right behind her, cell phone in hand. When she ran a stop sign in the parking lot, he called the police.

By the time the cops showed up a few minutes later, the woman already had parked at the Chandler Mall, less than a mile from Mimi's. She was buying bath salts when the businessman pointed her out to the cops.

Thanks to the businessman's intervention, Shannon Wilcutt was eventually charged with three felony counts: a DUI above 0.08, a DUI with a child under 15 in the car, and drug possession.

Justice served, right?

Hardly.

Turns out, those glasses of white wine were actually water. Wilcutt was groggy because she'd just had dental surgery. She'd thought a mimosa might be soothing, but when it stung her sutures, she pushed it away half-finished.

The proof is in the police report: Wilcutt's blood alcohol content was only 0.02, the equivalent of one drink. She wasn't even close to the legal limit.

No matter. Shannon Wilcutt was busted anyway. Her little boy was taken from her as she was handcuffed, arrested, and entered into the justice system. That meant weekly random alcohol tests, weekly phone calls to a court-appointed "counselor," and the looming possibility of heavy fines and a three-year license revocation, not to mention jail time.

It would take two years and thousands of dollars for Wilcutt to be vindicated.


Here's what really happened.

Shannon Wilcutt wasn't a big drinker, and she'd certainly never been in trouble with the law before. Her husband, Bryan, is a software engineer working on his doctorate in computer science. Shannon is a homemaker who's taking classes at the University of Phoenix, though at the time of her arrest she worked in Walgreens' inventory department. The couple have three boys and a home on a quiet street in the older part of Chandler.

On the morning of May 18, 2006, Wilcutt, then 34, underwent surgery to remove a bad set of dentures. The dentist used Novocain but didn't knock her out. After the procedure, her dentist cleared her to leave — and prescribed hydrocodone for the pain. (That medication is a generic form of Vicodin.)

Too tired to cook, Wilcutt took 4-year-old John to Mimi's Café, a chain restaurant. She ate soup and a muffin and drank half a mimosa, but the orange juice irritated her mouth, which was raw and sore from the surgery. Feeling dehydrated, she switched to water. The waitress brought her goblet after goblet.

At the very end of the meal, Wilcutt took one hydrocodone pill. She wanted to stop at the mall and get bath salts, a trip she estimated at 10 minutes, max. She figured the pain pill would kick in as she reached her house and settled into the tub.

She didn't realize that Steven Ceballes, the aforementioned businessman, had already made a phone call.

Ceballes is the owner of a commercial landscape company called Horticulture West. Dining with clients, he noticed that Wilcutt was woozy. He suspected alcohol, according to a statement he gave police, so he called the cops. He then followed Wilcutt's minivan to the Chandler Mall to point her out to the officers. (Reached by phone, Ceballes declined comment and told New Times not to include his name in this story. Then he hung up.)

At the time, Wilcutt was suffering from numerous health problems. She was significantly overweight, asthmatic, and had a herniated disc in her back. So although she did fine on some of the field sobriety tests, like counting to 30, she had difficulty walking and turning and standing on one leg.

She was also freaking out. She felt herself gasping for breath; right in front of the police officers, she took a hit on her inhaler.

Numerous academic studies have shown that inhalers can artificially increase a breathalyzer's blood alcohol reading. But the cops administered the breath test anyway, just minutes after she used her inhaler, Wilcutt says. Sure enough, it gave an inflated reading of 0.048.

Even that, of course, is well under the legal limit. But the cops were convinced Wilcutt was impaired, possibly by drugs. She said she'd taken one hydrocodone pill, but they were convinced she'd had at least two. The police report notes that Wilcutt's eyes were heavy and "her speech was slow and slurred."

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske