Checkpoint on concert night was coincidence | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Checkpoint on concert night was coincidence

Elaine Goodman

As about 5,800 people left the Journey concert at Harveys Resort Casino last Saturday, the California Highway Patrol was running a DUI checkpoint 1.5 miles west of the venue on Highway 50.

But the checkpoint, in which three drivers were arrested on suspicion of drunk driving over the course of six hours, was not timed to coincide with the concert, authorities said.

“It was just a summer night we picked,” said Officer Steve Gwaltney with the California Highway Patrol. “We have a lot of concerts coming, and some might be even bigger.”

In fact, Gwaltney said, the date had been chosen a year in advance. The checkpoints are often scheduled for holiday weekends or other nights when traffic is expected to be heavy.

It wouldn’t make sense to pay officers overtime to run a checkpoint on a slow night, say a Tuesday in October, Gwaltney said.

The CHP ran the Saturday night checkpoint with help from South Lake Tahoe police.

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Talked to 222 drivers

Westbound Highway 50 was narrowed to one lane between Herbert and Fairway avenues. During the checkpoint hours of 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., 1,807 cars passed through. Of those, officers made contact with 222 drivers by asking them to roll down their windows and talk to them. The drivers chosen for contact were those who showed signs of possible impairment.

Seven drivers were asked to take a field sobriety test. Three were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

In addition to looking for drunk drivers, officers have discretion to talk to motorists about other violations, such as having youngsters in the car without car seats, Gwaltney said.

If traffic starts backing up, officers will make efforts to move cars through more quickly.

Gwaltney said South Lake Tahoe police ran a DUI checkpoint earlier this summer, with assistance from CHP. Details on that checkpoint were not available in time for this story.

The CHP has no plans for additional checkpoints at the South Shore this summer, but that could change if officials notice an increase in drunk driving, Gwaltney said.

The summer concert series at Harveys is a key piece of the summer tourism picture for the region, said John Packer, spokesman for Harrah’s and Harveys at Lake Tahoe.

Rooms at Harrah’s and Harveys usually sell out on concert nights, he said. That means many others in town for the show are likely staying at South Shore’s other hotels and motels.

“They’re buying gas, they’re buying groceries, they’re going out to dinner,” Packer said. “Millions and millions of dollars are brought into the South Lake Tahoe economy because of the concerts.”

Officials hear no complaints

Packer said he hadn’t heard any complaints about the DUI checkpoint. But he said it would have been nice if the public had been notified ahead of time, so motorists would have had the option to avoid it.

Gwaltney of the CHP said the checkpoints are usually publicized in advance through an announcement in the newspaper. But because he was on vacation just before the checkpoint, it’s possible the notice was not sent out, he said.

Even if the checkpoints are publicized, drunk drivers won’t necessarily try to avoid them.

“You’d be surprised how many drunk drivers drive past with a beer in the console,” Gwaltney said.

Duane Wallace, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, said on Tuesday that he was not aware there had been a checkpoint on Saturday night. He also had heard no complaints.

“Those who aren’t drunk probably don’t mind it; those who are drunk, do,” Wallace said.

Businesses near the checkpoint reported little or no impact from the operation.

Tony Trader, manager of Teps Villa Roma, said he heard customer comments regarding the checkpoint along the lines of “Oooo, better watch out.” But Trader said he didn’t think the checkpoint hurt the restaurant’s business.

At Ski Run Liquor on Fairway Avenue, clerk Alberto Aguayo said more mature customers had a positive view of the checkpoint, although he did hear some disparaging remarks about the police from younger customers.

Overall, Aguayo thinks the DUI checkpoints are a good idea.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Aguayo said. “People get killed because of these people.”

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