Beto O'Rourke, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, speaks during a town hall meeting in Brady, Texas, U.S. on Friday, April 6, 2018. (Bloomberg photo for Sergio Flores)
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 12:50 pm
Fact Checker: Beto O'Rourke falsely claimed that he did not try to leave the scene of a DWI
Glenn Kessler | The Washington Post
"I did not try to leave the scene of the accident, though driving drunk, which I did, is a terrible mistake for which there is no excuse or justification or defense, and I will not try to provide one."
– Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, Senate candidate, during a Feb. 21 debate
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During a debate with his rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, O'Rourke was asked point blank about a drunk-driving incident when he was 26 years old: Did he try to leave the scene of the accident? The House Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News had recently obtained the police reports of the incident and reported he had done so.
O'Rourke responded with what appeared to be a well-practiced answer. He flatly denied trying to leave the scene of the accident but added that his drunk driving arrest was a "terrible mistake" and he would not provide an excuse. He then segued into a riff about the importance of second chances.
Cruz, for his part, said he would not discuss the issue but diverted to a discussion of O'Rourke's sponsorship of resolution in 2009 to debate legalizing narcotics when he was on the El Paso city council. Interestingly, Cruz appeared to try to make his point factcheck-proof; he had earlier earned a "false" from PolitiFact Texas for saying the resolution was to legalize all narcotics, rather than just debate the issue.
O'Rourke's assertion that he did not try to leave the scene of the accident, however, is disputed by the police records. So that's worthy of a fact check.
At about 3 a.m. on Sept. 27, 1998, in Anthony, Texas, a suburb 20 miles north of El Paso on the border with New Mexico, police officer Richard Carrera was dispatched to a motor vehicle accident near the Texas 1-mile mark of Interstate-10.
He met with the driver, identified as Robert Francis O'Rourke, and asked him what had happened: "The defendant advised in a slurred speech that he had caused an accident," Carrera wrote in his complaint charging O'Rourke with driving while intoxicated.
In another report in the records, filed with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Carrera wrote that "defendant was unable to be understood due to slurred speech" and that he had "glossy eyes" and "breath that smelled of an alcohol beverage." When Carrera asked O'Rourke step out of the vehicle, he "almost fell to the floor" and was repeatedly unable to complete a test of standing on one leg. He "failed by totally losing his balance."
When O'Rourke blew into a breathalyzer, the results were a Blood/Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.136 and 0.134. The legal state limit in Texas at the time was 0.10; a year later, it was lowered to 0.08. With a BAC of between 0.130 and 0.159, a person experiences: "Gross motor impairment and lack of physical control. Blurred vision and major loss of balance. Euphoria is reducing and beginning dysphoria (a state of feeling unwell)." For a male of 190 pounds, O'Rourke's weight as listed in the police report, that BAC is reached after six drinks.
O'Rourke's birthday is Sept. 26, so he had this accident the night of his 26th birthday. He listed his occupation as salesman. (He had just moved back to El Paso from New York and was starting an internet service company.)
In his DWI interview, O'Rourke said he had last eaten at 7 p.m. – pasta – and had drunk two beers. He also mentioned that he had a cold earlier.
The accident had been observed by a witness. He told Carrera that O'Rourke, driving a Volvo, had passed him a high rate of speed through a 75 mph zone and then lost control and "struck a truck traveling the same direction." O'Rourke's car then crossed the large grassy center median and came to a stop.
"The defendant/driver then attempted to leave the scene," Carrera reported. "The reporter then turned on his overhead lights to warn oncoming traffic and try to get the defendant to stop."
Similar information appears in another document, the incident and crime report: "The driver attempted to leave the accident but was stopped by the reporter."
There are some inconsistencies in the police records – O'Rourke's Volvo is described as both black and green and he's traveling either west or east – but the witness who viewed the crash is twice described as saying that O'Rourke tried to leave the scene of the accident. The witness is not identified. We could not locate Carrera for further comment.
The charges were dismissed after O'Rourke, whose father had been a local judge, completed a court-approved diversion program, the Chronicle said.
An O'Rourke campaign spokesman did not respond to emails or text messages.
At The Fact Checker, we place a high value on contemporaneous records. The police reports show not only that O'Rourke was highly intoxicated but that a witness to accident said he tried to leave the scene.
O'Rourke was so drunk that he could barely get out of the car without falling, so perhaps he would not have gotten far - or he was simply confused. Perhaps in his memory, O'Rourke believes he did not try to leave. But, given his BAC level at the time of the accident, O'Rourke's memory 20 years after the fact is not nearly as credible as the police reports written just hours after the accident.
O'Rourke could have dodged the question during the debate or he could have said his memory is not clear from that night. Instead, he chose to dispute the factual record. We also believe in second chances and O'Rourke should revise his answer if given another opportunity. In the meantime, he earns Four Pinocchios.