State police in Rhode Island, said that a man they arrested early on July 22 may be the new holder of the state record for highest blood-alcohol content: .491. They clarified that this was believed to be the highest ever recorded in the state "for someone who wasn't dead."
According to police, the unidentified man was arrested after he drove into a highway message board on I-95. When state troopers arrived, the man "had trouble getting out of the car," and when he did get out he grabbed the vehicle and refused to (or could not) move. Troopers had to carry him away. While no one was surprised to find that the man was drunk, they were surprised he could move at all, since tests showed his BAC was .489. A follow-up test registered .491.
As you may know, that's a lot. The legal limit in Rhode Island, as in most states, is .08, which our hero had sextupled. The state health department classifies .3 as "stupor," .4 as "comatose," and .5 as "fatal." These are generic descriptions, of course, and the actual effect on a person can vary widely depending on weight and alcohol tolerance (and, apparently, whether they are dead). A first-time drinker may become unconscious at .15, but long-time heavy drinkers may have a much higher tolerance.
In 2005, it was reported that a Bulgarian man had been found to have a BAC of .914. See "Bulgarian's blood-alcohol level astounds doctors," CBC News (Jan. 4, 2005). He had (somehow) been walking, not driving; he ended up in the hospital because a car hit him. According to the report, police at first thought their equipment was broken, but five separate blood tests later that day confirmed the ginormous readings. Police said the man -- who seems to have survived -- remained conscious and talked with them even though his blood was almost 1 percent alcohol.
Still, in a state as tiny and previously Puritan as Rhode Island, .491 could be considered high. I tried to calculate how many drinks the man might have had to get to .491, but this turned out to be difficult since most drink charts don't go this high. I had some success with the "Virtual Bar" at B4UDrink.org, where you select drinks and how fast you drink them over time, and it estimates the resulting BAC. Drinking mostly virtual shots (although I did have a few beers, some margaritas, two martinis and one Long Island Ice Tea, and no virtual food), I hit .4 after 21 drinks in 3.5 hours. (It kept insisting I was dead after .4, so we have to extrapolate from that.) The program may need to be adjusted, especially if it's going to be useful in Bulgaria, but based on this something like 25-30 drinks over a 4-5 hour period seems like a decent guess.
Thus the statement by Major Steven O'Donnell, spokesman for the Rhode Island State Police: "Our only assumption could be that the person has a serious alcohol problem." That would appear to be a fair assumption.
Link: AP via SF Gate