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Ventura County pulls faulty breathalyzer devices

April 20, 2011 | 12:17 pm

After getting faulty readings on several breathalyzer devices, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department will remove all 125 machines from service, and prosecutors will reexamine some convictions, authorities said Wednesday.

Deputies first noticed a faulty reading in January and continued to see problems in seven more devices until they were pulled last week, said Capt. Mike Aranda.

Deputies are required to take two tests to confirm a breathalyzer’s results and did not get consistent readings on the tests, Aranda said.

“We were diligent,” he said. “We were the ones that discovered the defects in the machines.”

Aranda did not know how many convictions would have to be reviewed and prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.

The Alco-Sensor V breathalyzers, which are manufactured by Missouri-based Intoximeters Inc., were purchased in December through a state grant and were used by sheriff’s deputies and local police departments. They cost about $4,800 each, Aranda said.

The manufacturer acknowledged a defect in the devices and has said it will fix the problem, Aranda said. Meanwhile, the department will deploy 25 Alco-Sensor IV breathalyzers, which it used previously.

The new devices were meant to allow deputies to administer tests while standing a safe distance away from suspects.

Rankine Forrester, chief executive of Intoximeters, said testing had shown results similar to those reported by Ventura officials, and the company was working to correct the problem.

“We are testing it to death to make sure we have corrected it before we implement it in the field,” he said. “It’s a process. Obviously it’s not in our interest to have instruments that produce erroneous readings.”

He said Ventura County was one of only six users nationwide. The devices were rolled out last year.

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-- Paloma Esquivel

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