Drunk driving a fatal mistake | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Drunk driving a fatal mistake

When Mark Rodriguez got behind the wheel he knew he was wrong.

He was in no shape to drive but it didn’t stop him from heading home to Sacramento after an evening of drinking on South Shore.

His careless decision meant death for a 33-year-old Yerington woman he’d never met.

Ann Rowley and her husband Mark were on their way home last Christmas after visiting family. Around 11:40 p.m. as the Rowleys neared Echo Summit, Rodriguez vehicle crossed the yellow line hitting them head-on. Rodriguez blood alcohol level was .19. California’s legal limit is .08.

Rodriguez, 34, took full responsibility for his actions and at his sentencing he told his attorney he wanted no arguments for leniency. Rodriguez is serving a seven-year prison sentence for gross vehicular manslaughter.

In 1997, 194 people were injured in alcohol-related collisions in El Dorado County – 12 people were killed. Two of those fatalities were in December. In South Lake Tahoe there were 18 injury accidents involving alcohol during 1997, and two fatalities.

The message that it’s not socially acceptable to drink and drive has been pushed with education and stricter laws. Years of constant outcry by citizen activist groups and federal and state agencies have led courts to recognize driving under the influence as a violent crime. Statistics suggest holidays are a particularly dangerous time on America’s highways, and the main reason is impaired driving. December was made “National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month” in recognition of that fact. Today, law enforcement agencies will participate in “Lights on for Life.” Officers will turn on their headlights in hopes of promoting awareness.

Law enforcement along South Shore will also add extra officers to patrols to help deal with holiday problems. The California Highway Patrol in South Lake Tahoe will enter a maximum enforcement period from 6 p.m. on Dec. 26 to midnight on Dec. 27.

Lt. Cmdr. Marty Whited said drivers should slow down, wear a seat belt and stay sober during the holiday season.

“The designated driver should abstain from alcohol entirely,” Whited said.

When a designated driver plan falls through the International Good Samaritans hope people take advantage of the Ticket To RIDE. The program offers prepaid coupons, good for up to five people going a maximum of eight miles anywhere on Lake Tahoe’s south shore. The coupon is worth about $15.

Tom Argo, executive director of the organization, said he encourages private hosts to purchase the ride coupons for $5. The ticket is split three ways with the host, Good Samaritan, and the Yellow Cab Company all contributing $5.

“Education is getting better but there is still an intolerable amount of people who die from alcohol-related accidents every year, and the majority of those accidents happen between Christmas and New Year’s,” Argo said.

The Good Samaritans also offer two free tickets to all the bars in town. The program is funded by the group’s car and motorcycle shows in the summer.

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