McALLEN — As local families prepare to celebrate Fourth of July weekend, law enforcement agencies are preparing to step out in numbers to crack down on drunken drivers.
Beginning Saturday, the Texas Department of Public Safety and local police departments including McAllen, Mission and Edinburg will have a special detail of officers and troopers looking for drunken drivers.
The special details are funded through a grant from DPS called Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, said Ruby Martinez, traffic safety specialist with the Texas Department of Transportation.
The grant provides additional moneys for overtime so that the participating agencies can man the special details, Martinez said.
“July Fourth is the deadliest holiday of the year for alcohol-related crashes in the United States,” said Carol Rawson, Traffic Operations Division director for TxDOT. “It’s important to make the right choices. Stay safe and enjoy the holiday.”
According to TxDOT’s statistics, in 2011, there were 308 alcohol-related crashes in Texas during the Fourth of July weekend.
DPS will have all their troopers out on the road during that period, said Trooper Johnny Hernandez, DPS spokesman.
In Mission, the police department will assign three to five officers per shift to work strictly traffic enforcement focusing on DWI’s, said Cpl. Manuel Casas, Mission police spokesman.
If an officer suspects that a driver is under the influence, he will then put them through field sobriety tests, Casas said.
During the enforcement period, authorities will implement a no-refusal approach where the motorist suspected of driving while intoxicated must provide a breath or blood sample to law enforcement. If they refuse, police officers can then detain the driver and have a judge get a search warrant for a mandatory blood sample, Martinez said.
Alcohol impairs a driver’s ability from the first drink, Hernandez said, adding that the effects depend on the individual’s gender, bodyweight and other factors such as food consumed and number of drinks consumed. But individuals often may think they are well when in fact they may be intoxicated, he said, adding that in 2011, DPS troopers worked 191 crashes where alcohol was listed as a contributing factor.
“If you have consumed alcohol, it is probably best not to get behind the wheel or get in a vehicle with someone that has been drinking,” Hernandez said. “It’s best to have a designated driver or call a cab. One bad choice can have tragic consequences.”
The tragic effects of a bad choice is the message that TxDOT is trying to get across with their Faces of Drunk Driving campaign, in which they profile individuals whose lives have been tragically altered by drunken driving.
For 2012, TxDOT is profiling Sean Carter, a former model and college athlete at Midwestern State University who was severely injured in a crash in 2005 at the age of 22. Carter had been drinking with his friend Ryan Carter when he got in the passenger’s side of a black Dodge pickup that crashed, leaving him with permanent brain damage that forced the former model to require a wheelchair and took away his ability to speak.
“If I could do it all over again, I would make a different choice,” Carter said via a computer-aided voice program in a recorded interview.
Locally, a bad choice converted a birthday party into a funeral when 18-year-old Yadira Peña was killed in a single-vehicle wreck in February.
The driver of the vehicle, 23-year-old Antonio Montelongo, was charged with one count of criminally negligent homicide and is awaiting trial. Police reports from the time state that Montelongo had used marijuana and consumed alcohol prior to the accident.
Ildefonso Ortiz covers law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org at (956) 683-4437.
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