Holiday drinking, driving laws will be strictly enforced

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 26, 2002

The number of drunken driving deaths in the United States rose last year after holding steady during most of the 1990s, said a Mothers Against Drunk Driving representative recently. In Suffolk, however, the numbers are holding steady; in fact, they’re on the decline.

MADD President Wendy Hamilton blamed the increase on complacency, but that factor is not a problem in Suffolk. The police department in this city is dedicated to bringing those who insist on drinking and driving to a swift and sure justice.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney W. Randolph Carter Jr. said Suffolk’s figures are nowhere near the numbers in other states. In 2000, there were 194 DUI’s prosecuted, and the figure dropped to 178 in 2001.

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Carter credits the dedication of the Suffolk Police Department’s strict policy on drunk driving and its mission of protecting the public from such.

&uot;We have pretty strict enforcement by the Suffolk Police and we (the city) have a reputation for that enforcement,&uot; he said. &uot;Also, Suffolk was the first district to send assistant Commonwealth’s attorneys into courts on a regular basis to prosecute DUI cases. Many other areas are now actively pursuing DUI prosecutions.&uot;

Carter has handled hundreds of DUI cases, including driving and drinking, and drinking under the age of 21. Even with the vast number of cases, he still has no problem recalling one of the worst incidents.

&uot;It was a case of a father taking his four kids and going out for a pack of cigarettes at 4 a.m. and he’d been drinking,&uot; said Carter. &uot;He ran off the road, struck a tree and the infant in the car was slammed around in the vehicle and killed. She was pronounced dead at the scene.&uot;

Suffolk Police Officer M.E. &uot;Mike&uot; Simpkins also noted that the city has seen a decline in DUI arrests.

&uot;Thus far this year, our numbers are not as high as in previous years,&uot; said Simpkins. &uot;Still, we are going into the holiday season with its parties and such, and there is a strong possibility that we may match or exceed the 2001 figure.

&uot;We don’t know how many arrests will be made over the Christmas and New Year holidays but we do know a lot of people will be partying and drinking and driving.&uot;

With that knowledge, Suffolk officers will watch the streets for drivers suspected of driving while impaired.

&uot;All officers automatically scan the streets they patrol, watching for those who may weave along the highways, drive slower than the speed limit, or they may drive off to the sides or to the center of the highway,&uot; said Simpkins.

&uot;Once the officers observe such driving, they can stop a vehicle and make personal contact with the driver to determine if they are in fact, impaired.&uot;

Once an officer observes the driver and he suspects impairment, he may administer a field sobriety test. He said breathalyzer tests are now done at police headquarters.

&uot;Refusing to take the test can constitute another charge of refusal,&uot; said the officer. &uot;If convicted of DUI, they may lose their license.&uot;

Losing a driver’s license is only the tip of the iceberg. There is the Virginia Alcohol Substance Abuse Program to be considered, plus with court costs, fines and other penalties, costs can run to $10,000. A driver may be deprived of transportation to work because of a DUI conviction.

&uot;It just snowballs and gets worse and that’s not even looking at the fact that you’re ruining your reputation and may lose your job over a DUI conviction,&uot; said Simpkins.

&uot;It’s an embarrassment to your family, especially the children. Those few drinks you’ve had… there is no way you can justify the problems related with an arrest to the shame and expense of be charged with DUI.&uot;

Simpkins also offered advice on limiting the number of drinks to consume in an hour.

&uot;One drink an hour should be your limit,&uot; he explained. &uot;You must give your body time to get rid of the alcohol. One misconception is that beer has less alcohol than a mixed drink, but eight ounces of alcohol is the same whether it’s in beer, wine or a mixed drink.&uot;