Under the Influence

The cops say she was drunk, but she says she was drugged at a South Beach nightclub

Rose Warner, a 34-year-old actress/ model and mother of two young boys, moved to South Florida about a year ago from a town just outside Houston, Texas. Looking for "that big break," as she puts it, Warner went right to work finding an agent and networking with the glamour-industry elite in South Beach. Although she doesn't possess the leggy, anorexic, prepubescent looks common in high-fashion circles, Warner does project a wide-eyed, Texas-rose sweetness that works in other types of modeling jobs and that has, she says, helped her to begin building an acting resume.

Warner did get a break this past June -- make that a tough break. She's still trying to recover from the morning she woke up trembling, nauseated, and clueless in a cell at the Metro-Dade women's detention center on NW Seventh Avenue. The last thing she remembered from the previous night was leaving her drink at the bar while she buttonholed the manager of Bar None, a popular South Beach watering hole, for information about Sylvester Stallone's upcoming 50th birthday party. (Stallone has an ownership interest in Bar None and Warner hoped to finagle an invitation to his party.)

During the entire evening, Warner recalled, she visited two nightclubs, consumed one glass of red wine, several glasses of mineral water, and a vodka on the rocks. She didn't feel at all tipsy. But to the police later that night, she was just another drunk driver, picked up in such a state that she wasn't able even to blow into a breathalyzer.

Later, however, Warner became convinced that there were other reasons for her condition, and that the police who arrested her as a drunk should have called medical personnel and tested for other drugs. Had they done so, Warner contends, they surely would have discovered that she was not drunk but rather the victim of a type of assault that has become disturbingly familiar: women being surreptitiously drugged and sometimes raped, and who wake up hours later with no recollection of what transpired. Usually the drug is the newly fashionable rohypnol -- known as roofies and also called the date-rape pill.

A powerful sedative not sold legally in the U.S., rohypnol produces symptoms similar to intoxication by alcohol and other strong sedatives. One of its most common effects is short-term memory loss once it kicks in, which can take from 15 to 45 minutes. (One well-publicized local case involves two University of Miami students who say they were raped after their drinks were spiked with roofies at a fraternity party.) But because rohypnol is usually impossible to detect in the body after 48 hours, Warner and scores of other women who believe they've been drugged -- but who did not promptly undergo testing -- can't present physical evidence to prove it.

In Warner's case rape isn't an issue, and in a somewhat unusual twist on DUI defenses, she doesn't deny she was in fact driving under the influence, though not of alcohol. But she does want to regain her driver's license, which was automatically suspended because she allegedly refused a breathalyzer test. "I wasn't in any condition to refuse," Warner insists. "I was sick, and they should have seen that."

Her tearful mother arrived that morning, Thursday, June 27, to bail her out of jail. When they went to retrieve Warner's Jeep Cherokee from the lot to which it had been towed, they found citations for DUI and other traffic offenses in the car, as well as the vomit-caked jacket Warner had been wearing.

Warner says she was unable to eat for several days afterward, was too weak to hold her head up, and was so sick she asked her mother to feed her two boys. When she finally saw a doctor, he told her it was unfortunate she'd waited so long because it was too late to confirm his suspicion that she was suffering the aftereffects of a rohypnol high.

Although no one knows just how prevalent these types of assaults are, the growing use of rohypnol -- both by sexual predators and those who ingest it for their own amusement -- prompted Dade County to join with the University of Miami two years ago in the creation of what may be the first laboratory in the nation to test for the presence of rohypnol and other drugs in DUI cases where the defendant passes a breath test but nonetheless appears to be intoxicated.

In the past twelve months, the toxicology lab has attributed more than 60 DUI cases to roofies, although some involved other drugs mixed with rohypnol, according to lab director H. Chip Walls. "We started documenting the cases in 1995, so it's hard to know if there are any trends right now," Walls says, "but the numbers don't seem to be dropping off. We've seen a lot of times in a nightclub someone will dissolve a pill in water or in alcohol, in which case the drug takes less time to reach significant effects. It seems to be within fifteen or twenty minutes."

According to spokesman Dennis Morales, Metro-Dade police policy leaves it to the discretion of individual officers whether to request testing for rohypnol after a DUI stop. In Rose Warner's case, Ofcr. Mark Huetter apparently saw no reason to question his initial impression that she was very drunk. She had the "odor of an alcoholic beverage on her breath, which became stronger as she spoke," he wrote in the arrest report, and "swayed as she walked ... and used her vehicle as support." At a hearing two months later, Huetter described Warner as frequently losing her balance, vomiting, and slipping in and out of consciousness. "She didn't need medical attention," the officer said at the hearing. "This is just an alcohol-related problem. And I have 25 years of police work, and I have seen people under medical [conditions] and under alcohol." But he'll never be able to prove that assertion, just as Warner can't dispute it, because no breath, blood, or urine testing was done.

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