The high blood-alcohol content found in Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever's body after his fatal crash last month suggests the sheriff had a strong tolerance for booze, experts say.
In other words, Dever -- known by many as a Mormon who didn't drink -- may have been a problem drinker.
If so, did his fellow law enforcement officers know?
Dever died on September 18 in the one-car crash on Forest Service Road 109 near Williams. He'd been on his way to a hunting trip near White Horse Lake with family members. Autopsy results released last week showed that Dever had at least a .29 BAC.
Arizona, which has one of the toughest DUI laws in the nation, classifies anything above a .20 BAC as super-extreme. Had Dever been convicted of driving with a .29 BAC, he would have served a minimum of 45 days behind bars.
An alcohol-abuse expert and a local driving expert tell New Times that in DUI cases with similarly high BACs, the suspect often is an alcoholic.
"A .29 is very significantly impaired," says the program director at one Valley substance-abuse clinic. "You're talking about extreme intoxication. However, someone who drinks regularly can sometimes drive at levels where other people would be comatose. At the least, it's indicative of binge drinking."
The driving expert, who knew Dever, agreed with that sentiment. But the expert and others who knew Dever expressed shock that he was driving drunk at all.
Kenneth Kimmel, chief of police in Sierra Vista, the largest city in Cochise County, says he'd known Dever for 30 years and "never known him to have a drink."
If Dever was a drinker, did his department cover for him?
Rod Rothrock, acting sheriff of Cochise County, did not return messages for this article.
A message left with Dever's family hasn't yet been returned.
If Dever wasn't a regular drinker, that makes his lapse in judgment on September 18 even less explainable. Achieving a .29 BAC might take as many as 15 drinks slammed over a fairly short space of time, says another expert. As someone who's handed out many DUI tickets in his career, Dever would have known the danger of consuming that much booze. On top of that, Dever didn't have his seat-belt on and was driving at an excessive 62 miles per hour on a dirt road at sunset.
"Gosh, that's really shocking," says one acquaintance of Dever's, retired Cochise County Judge Rich Winkler, upon hearing Dever's high BAC. "That's very out of character of the image I had of him."
Sheriff Bill Pribil of Coconino County, where the accident occurred, says he saw Dever at official functions three to four times a year and never saw him drink. A check of Coconino's database shows that Dever never was stopped in the county, Pribil says.
In this case -- as with similar, one-vehicle crashes with a deceased DUI suspect and no other victims -- investigators won't bother to determine how and where the driver became drunk, Pribil says. Coconino County has received no reports from anyone who claims to have seen Dever's truck weaving or seen Dever drinking before the crash, he says.
Kelley Dupps of MADD Arizona says people in her organization hope this tragedy keeps others from getting on the road while plastered. But it's also a sign that after three decades of activism against drunk drivers, and after helping Arizona pass harsh laws against offenders, the group still has plenty of work to do.
Dever's death is another reminder that drinking too much and getting behind the wheel can happen to anyone -- "even folks we look up to and are prominent in law enforcement."
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