Portable breathalyzers match up with police versions in Allen Park PD test

Image 1 of 12

Portable breathalyzers run anywhere from $50 to a couple hundred - but are they worth it?
FOX 2 and Allen Park police teamed up for a study including five people drinking alcohol to test the breathalyzers against the police-issued machines.
This concept was all spurred by the story of a young woman who made a deadly mistake. 

"Every morning you feel normal for those first few seconds you wake up - and then it just hits you that she's not here anymore," said Jasmine Sanchez-Condash.

It's the new normal for the Condash family, living without their beloved Jessie. 

"I just know that, to never hear my daughter's voice again, it's going to be tough," said George Condash, her father.

A horrible crash last St. Patrick's Day in Allen Park taking the life of 24-year-old Jessie Sanchez-Condash.

Jessie got into her car after drinking too much at a local bar and went careening into the Shell gas station at Outer Drive and Southfield while speeding. Her impact was so hard, that the engine was thrown out of the car, landing 20 yards away.

She died on impact. 

"It doesn't feel real still to this day," said Jasmine. "It's like you're still waiting for her to come in at any point."

Jessie was much more than this one decision. She was a music lover, a steward for the environment and the shining light of her family. 

"Jessie had a way of being everybody's best friend, she was everybody's favorite," George said. 

They are sharing her story - just so even one person thinks twice before drinking and driving. 

"You don't want anybody else to have to go through this pain of losing someone who had so much more life to live," Jasmine said.

Allen Park Police Detective Jim Thorburn made the notification call that night.

"The absolute worst thing of the job is that," he said. "It is something you don't forget. You don't forget each one you've ever done." 

Her death gave Thorburn, a 24-year veteran, an idea: portable breathalyzers or PBTs. Thorburn wanted to test their reliability against police issued ones, to see if they're worth it.

"We have fitness trackers and we track a lot of things in our life, this is just another evolution of that," he said.

So, he put a call out on the department's Facebook page, which is known for its humor, attracting 10,000 followers. It was a chance to drink with police - you can imagine; the response was huge.

"If you make things fun and light-hearted people tend to learn more," Thorburn said. "You can't be serious all the time."

He picked 5 volunteers to drink at Timothy O'Malley's Pub. And jokes aside, they’ve all been touched by drunk driving. Chris Tuccini lost his best friend 21 years ago. 

"I'm getting choked up thinking about it," he said. "But I think about him a lot every time I do something special. And wonder why he's not here, and I know why."

Then we put the top two selling breathalyzers to the test.

One is made by BACtrack is about $50 and for your key ring.  It syncs to your phone, gives your Blood Alcohol Content, tells you when you'll sober up and can call an Uber.

 The other is made by Alcohawk and uses more traditional technology. It runs about $150 and is the same size as the yellow, police-issued PBT that costs more than $1,000 dollars. 

Over three hours, we tested each machine three times on everyone. We also added some field sobriety tests as the group started to blow just over .08.

After seven or eight drinks, they started to blow levels two and three times over the legal limit. Then, the results were in.

"The smaller keychain alcohol sensor was almost exactly where ours was - which was surprising," said Thorburn. 

Every single time - the numbers were within a tenth of a point compared to the police PBTs.

The other made by Alcohawk was not as reliable. 

"It tended to read a little bit higher which isn't a bad thing," Thorburn said. "Although it's not accurate, it is better to be higher than lower in this situation." 

The reliability of the Backtrack surprised even the officers, as they loaded up our volunteers to get home safely. 

These facts will sober you right up - every day across the country 29 people are killed by drunk driving. Here at home in Wayne County, 58 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 2018.

If that doesn't scare you, maybe this will. First drunk driving, you're going to spend $2,000 on a lawyer and at least $1,200 to $1,700 and let's not even talk about the insurance rate, because they are going to get you."

Buying a PBT will cost you as much as a round of drinks - a small price to pay considering the alternative.

"If that can avoid one person from doing this, for something that hangs on your keychain I'm all for it," Thorburn said.

Both PBTs were both more reliable than we thought, but the smaller model by BACtrack was nearly spot-on in our test.