Questions after deadly crash blamed on in-car breathalyzer

Driver said he was taking retest at time of crash that killed Michigan native

Alexis Butler
An undated photo of Alexis Butler courtesy the Facebook page for a vigil to remember her.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The death of West Michigan native is raising questions about in-car breathalyzer tests for people convicted of drinking and driving.

Eighteen-year-old Alexis Butler, who went to Battle Creek Lakeview High School, died Friday, a week after a crash in Arlington, Texas. The driver of the pickup truck that struck her car blamed the court-ordered device for the crash. The driver said he was ordered to blow into an ignition interlock device every 15 to 20 minutes while driving to show he had not been drinking. He said that’s why his eyes left the road.

The requirements are similar in Michigan. It may seem dangerous, but a spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office, which regulates the devices, said “the priority is safe operation of vehicle.”

“If they don’t believe that they can do it safely, you should pull off,” spokesman Fred Woodhams continued.

Ignition interlock device
Photo: An ignition interlock device.

Woodhams said that in Michigan, drivers are given five minutes to blow into the device. The office feels that is enough time to safely take the test.

“It’s not supposed to be anything that you need to bend down to blow into,” Woodhams said.

He says drivers should be able to keep their eyes on the road.

“But certainly the priority is safety on the road, so if someone believes they cannot blow safety, they should pull over,” he said.

The idea behind the retests is to allow offenders to drive to work, but ensure they don’t start drinking behind the wheel after the initial breath test to start the vehicle.

The Secretary of State’s Office said it was not aware of any complaints about the system or its regulations. However, it is watching and waiting to learn what police determine to be the cause of the crash that killed Alexis Butler.

“We did see that story. At this point, we feel these devices are being used safely,” Woodhams said.

24 Hour reached out to the company that makes the devices in Michigan, Intoxalock.

“We are very saddened to hear about the accident, and more importantly, that a life was lost,” the company said in a statement. “In almost one million customers, we’ve had a handful allege that they caused an accident while engaged in a retest. However, in all of those situations the data pulled from the device provided irrefutable evidence that a retest was not in progress at or near the time of the accident.”

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Online:

MADD on ignition interlock devices