Driving while drunk risky for everybody | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Driving while drunk risky for everybody

William Ferchland

It could begin with a broken taillight, expired registration or cracked windshield. Drivers that don’t turn off their high beams are suspicious. So are cars that drift over the yellow line a couple of times.

South Shore authorities cite many ways a drunken driving arrest can begin and with summer season beginning this weekend, those in law enforcement are expecting a greater number of intoxicated drivers behind the wheel.

“As summer nears and holidays bring an increase in (drunken driving) events, it occurs to me that most people have no idea what a typical (driving under the influence) means in terms of direct impact to the driver,” said Tony Sears, El Dorado County deputy district attorney.

Sears estimated a financial cost of $5,500 that includes bail, attorney fees, education and fines to get through a first offense. Not included were the costs of having a suspended license and insurance increases.

“This is not just a weekend in jail,” Sears said.

Costs can be higher. In September, on the first day of school for many youths, 21-year-old Jesse Whitworth struck and killed 15-year-old Marissa Bassett while she was crossing an intersection to a bus stop.

Whitworth was drinking with friends at the casino corridor. He had a 0.08 blood-alcohol level after the crash was sentenced to four years in state prison.

In Nevada, first offenders are sentenced to 10 days in jail, 50 hours of community service and ordered to pay $700 in fines.

In addition, they are required to attend victim impact panels where representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving speak.

“It’s very effective,” said Judge Richard Glasson of the Tahoe Township Justice Court in Stateline. “It’s the most effective tool in preventing a reoccurrence of the second offense.”

Glasson believes his court is harsher than others.

“We’ve been educated since we were little on the dangers of drinking and driving,” he said. “It’s a conscious decision.”

On Tuesday, an unsteady walk, expired registration and cracked windshield provided the incentive for an El Dorado County sheriff’s deputy to stop a 37-year-old Meyers man, a report stated.

The deputy was on patrol when he spotted the man walking from his parked Chevy truck near Sawmill Pond. The man was wobbly. The deputy waited until the man returned to his truck and drove a short distance.

For some agencies, like South Lake Tahoe Police Department, luck has improved for catching drunken drivers. With 151 arrests this year, officers are on track to beat the 317 arrests made last year, which improved over the 2002 mark of 218.

Lt. Martin Hewlett attributed the higher arrest numbers to more vigilant policing rather than more intoxicated drivers.

Other agencies have seen a drop in their numbers. Due to understaffing from injuries and budget problems, the California Highway Patrol reported 71 drunken driving arrests so far this year. Comparatively, the department had 311 arrests last year.

Douglas County Sheriff’s Department had 245 arrests last year, down from 286 in 2002.

Lt. Randy Peshon, who runs the El Dorado County Jail, is gearing up for a busy summer season beginning today.

“We can expect an increase in bookings over Memorial Day,” he said.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com.

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