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January 12th, 2011
Riding While Intoxicated

Two men, both atop farm animals on East Sixth Street, grabbed the gazes of revelers Friday night, some snapping pictures as the pair trotted through the busy entertainment district.

But they also drew suspicion from Austin police.

Within only a few minutes, officers were loading the horse and mule onto a trailer bound for the animal shelter and clasping handcuffs on the men.

Their crime, according to the officers: driving while intoxicated.

Jose Rios, 33, and Samuel Olivo Jr., 48, were both hauled to the Travis County Jail, but a judge refused to sign off on charges against Olivo, County Attorney David Escamilla said. Officers freed him after a few hours.

But a judge who looked at Rios' case agreed that officers had the goods to go forward.

"It was obviously a danger to the public when you have two animals on a roadway," said Austin police Cmdr. Jason Dusterhoft , who supervises the department's highway enforcement division. He said that although it is not against any city law to ride animals on streets, drivers were having to steer around the group.

It was unclear Tuesday who owned the animals or why the men brought them downtown.

Rios and Olivo could not be reached for comment.

According to an arrest affidavit, an officer saw Rios riding the mule near East Sixth Street and San Jacinto Boulevard. Officers smelled alcohol, then summoned members of the department's DWI team, which has special training in arresting drunken drivers.

An affidavit said that Rios had bloodshot eyes and was swaying, staggering and stumbling, and that he told officers he'd had "two vodka and cranberry drinks."

The document also laid out state laws for drunken driving, saying that a mule fit the legal standard for a "motor vehicle" "a device in, on or by which a person or property is, or may be, transported or drawn on a highway."

Details on Olivo's conduct were not available because he was not formally charged.

After the arrests, officers had to figure out what to do with the mule and horse. They summoned the department's trailer, typically used for police horses, and took them to the Town Lake Animal Center.

Acting Director Filip Gecic said the shelter kept the animals in "a little barn" until Saturday morning.

Then they got sweeter accommodations at an animal hospital in Elgin.

"We are really geared toward dogs and cats," Gecic said. "We don't really have the facilities for animals like that."

The animals, whose names were not known, remained in Elgin on Tuesday.

Gecic said whoever picks them up will have to pay a $50 impound fee for each animal on top of the $28 per day for housing.

The case against Rios reached Escamilla's desk Monday afternoon. He was immediately skeptical.

Escamilla said he directed prosecutors to review similar laws in other states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, where such cases have been heard but ultimately have not stood up in court.

"We were surprised there is more case law on drunken cowboys in Ohio and Pennsylvania than we found in Texas," Escamilla said.

Prosecutors have since dropped the charges against Rios.

But Dusterhoft said police plan to charge both men with another crime now: public intoxication, an offense for which they face up to a $500 fine.

(CLICK HERE) Dash-Cam footage of Sobriety Test!!



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