Be prepared: law enforcement officials on heightened DWI patrol

Texas Highway Patrol troopers listen during a press conference to address the problem of drunk driving during the holiday season at the Hidalgo-Cameron county line on Monday near Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

MERCEDES — Flanked by law enforcement agencies from both counties, the District Attorneys for Hidalgo and Cameron counties stood on the county line with a message for drivers in the Rio Grande Valley: do not get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle if you’ve been drinking.

“The message is not new, yet we can’t seem to get people to follow it,” said Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz.

In the week since Saenz and his Hidalgo County counterpart Ricardo Rodriguez began planning their first joint press conference warning about the dangers of drunk driving during the holiday season, two public safety employees were killed by suspected drunk drivers.

Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher Sandra Coronado died Dec. 9 and Hidalgo County EMS medic Felipe Huerta Jr. Dec. 16. Both were killed in Edinburg, Coronado on her way to work and Huerta while transporting a patient, who also died.

“We’re not here to pass judgement on whether an individual should drink or drive; that is each individual’s personal decision,” Saenz said. “But when you drink and drive and get behind the wheel, that is my business, that is DA Ricardo Rodriguez’s business, that is DPS’ business and that is the business of all these fine folks (in law enforcement) that you see here.”

The district attorneys were joined by the police chiefs of Mercedes, Weslaco and Alton; Cameron County Precinct 5 Constable Eddie Solis; DPS troopers; Brownsville police officers; Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra and Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio. Law enforcement agencies across the Valley will be ramping up patrols during the holidays, particularly on highways and interstates, especially during overnight hours when holiday activities and parties begin to wrap up.

In a news release, Saenz said agencies “anticipate a huge surge in traffic” from Saturday, Dec. 22 through Jan. 1.

During last year’s holiday season, from Dec. 1, 2017 to Jan. 1, 2018, there were 2,469 alcohol-related traffic crashes in Texas, resulting in 96 fatalities and 202 serious injuries, according to information from the Texas Department of Transportation.

There were 137 alcohol-related crashes in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy Counties during the same time period, which resulted in three serious injuries.

“No fatalities is great news, but you can never overemphasize caution,” said TxDOT spokesman Octavio Saenz.

The DAs and sheriffs urge residents to plan ahead if they plan on consuming alcohol, by designating a driver or finding alternative transportation home, such as a taxi, Lyft or Uber.

“It’s a personal choice,” Guerra said of the decision to drink and drive. “These things are totally preventable … We’re telling you to have a plan: if you’re going to consume alcohol have a plan before you do.”