Emergency responders know full well the horrors that can result when someone who’s had a few drinks gets behind the wheel of an automobile. They’re the ones who have to pry people out of the wreckage and try to keep them alive as they race to the hospital. They’re the ones who often have to tell family members that a loved one died in an alcohol-related crash.
Such tragedies have hit Hidalgo County first responders especially hard this month; three of their own have fallen victim to accidents involving alleged drunk drivers.
Two of them were on duty, handling another emergency. Hidalgo County emergency medical technician Felipe Huerta was killed and Andrea Rodriguez critically injured when their ambulance was hit head-on Sunday in Edinburg. The woman they were transporting, Delia Cortines, also died.
The previous weekend Sandra Coronado, a dispatcher with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, was killed, also in Edinburg, as she was on her way to work. Her vehicle was broadsided by a pickup truck that officials say ran a stop sign.
Drivers in both fatal crashes have been charged with intoxication manslaughter.
Sadly, it’s a persistent problem; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 of every 3 traffic fatalities involves a drunk driver. The Texas Department of Transportation reports that 2,469 alcohol-related crashes occurred in Texas from Dec. 1, 2017 to Jan. 1 of this year — 137 of them in the Rio Grande Valley.
It’s a year-round problem; a TxDOT report released earlier this year indicates that 754 alcohol-related accidents were reported in 2015 — the seventh-highest total among the state’s 254 counties. Cameron County added another 415. But holiday events, from company Christmas parties to neighborhood posadas, can place more drivers on Valley roads who have had a few drinks at this time of the year.
Cameron and Hidalgo counties’ district attorneys, along with police and sheriff’s departments in both counties, TxDOT and the Texas Department of Public Safety have joined forces this year to combat drunken driving and related accidents. They warn that patrols will be heavy during the holiday season, as they are every year, but they also ask residents to help remind friends and family about the dangers of intoxicated driving.
Their recommendations are simple, and sensible:
Plan ahead before going to any holiday gathering. Designate a driver who agrees to stay sober and provide a ride home for everybody else. Otherwise or as an added contingency, carry the phone number of a local taxi or ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft.
“These things (alcohol-related accidents) are totally preventable,” Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra said at a Saturday news conference in Mercedes announcing the agencies’ coordinated efforts. “If you’re going to consume alcohol, have a plan before you do.”
The officials’ recommendations seem so simple that they might be easy to overlook. Ignoring them, however, carries the risk of turning what should be one of the year’s most festive seasons into a time of tragedy — or a lifetime of regret.