Under the Influence

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

Two weekends after her arrest, Warner took her mother along to revisit the two clubs she'd been to that Wednesday night to see if anyone could fill in her memory gaps. Though no one was able to do that, the Bar None manager did confirm that she had left suddenly around 12:30 a.m. after complaining she didn't feel well.

Between 12:30 and 2:30 a.m., when the police report states she was arrested, Warner doesn't know where she was or what she was doing. She even went to a hypnotist in an effort to recover her memory. What she came up with was a recollection of being in her Jeep on a dark road, throwing up, and a police officer banging on the window with a flashlight. Officer Huetter's arrest report states that he had to "leave the roadway" to avoid being hit by Warner's weaving car as it traveled along South Perimeter Road bordering Miami International Airport (far from Warner's normal route between Miami Beach and Plantation).

Huetter radioed for Sgt. Pablo Lima, who is certified to administer roadside sobriety tests. According to Huetter's report, Warner "did not perform up to standard and was arrested." (In a departure from normal practice in DUI arrest reports, no specifics of her substandard performance are documented.)

Shortly after 4:00 a.m., Warner arrived at the Doral district substation where, according to the arrest documents, she initially refused to take a breath test and then, while drifting in and out of consciousness, decided to take it but was unable to. The illegible scribble around the signature line of the "implied consent" form -- which defendants sign to attest that they were warned their driver's license would be suspended for a year if they refused to take a breath or urine test -- bears no resemblance to her normally neat signature. Snapshots were taken of her curled in a fetal position on the floor, apparently in front of the breathalyzer machine.

This past September Warner went before a state hearing officer to ask that her license be reinstated pending the outcome of her DUI trial, which is expected to take place in the next few weeks. She argued that she had been incapable of refusing the breathalyzer and that she is a very light drinker who has never been in trouble. The hearing officer didn't buy her argument, and she has since had to bum rides, turn down jobs, and restrict her boys' after-school activities because of unreliable transportation. "I don't set out to get drunk," Warner says. "In these places you really just order a drink to fit in. It's all business. I have two children to take care of. This is ruining my life."

Warner's attorney, Susy Ribero-Ayala, says she hasn't found any case law in which a semiconscious person was considered to have refused a breath test. "The police were right to stop her, don't get me wrong," says Ribero-Ayala, who six months ago was prosecuting DUI and other cases for the Dade State Attorney's Office. "But her condition should have been alarming to them. They should have seen her pills in the glove compartment [to combat hypoglycemia], or they should have called a [police] drug recognition expert." (A hypoglycemic crisis can produce symptoms similar to drunkenness, including an alcohol-like odor on the breath.)

Toxicologist Chip Walls and other drug experts agree that given Warner's failure to complete a breath test and her extreme intoxication, police should have attempted another kind of drug test. "It's not at all uncommon for someone to not be able to blow into the breathalyzer," Walls says. "The police still have a couple of options: They can get a blood sample or a urine sample or do a [drug] evaluation."

The fact that Warner was in South Beach when the episode began makes it more likely -- though far from certain -- that she could have been drugged, says J. Bryan Page, professor of anthropology and psychiatry at the University of Miami, who studies street drug use. "South Beach is one of the places where rohypnol is very common," Page says. "It's dispensed readily in Europe, and there are a lot of models coming from those countries and it follows them in somehow. The place attracts that, anyway; it's kind of an epicenter for rohypnol use. So that increases the likelihood this could have happened to her."

Denizens of South Beach nightspots are reluctant to discuss such topics, although a few women interviewed recently claim that roofies and other drugs are routinely slipped into drinks at the Beach's popular nightclubs. "I've been to Monte Carlo; I've been all over the world," said a statuesque Scandinavian woman who was vague about her occupation. "And South Beach is the worst. It happened to me. I couldn't sleep for six days afterward.

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