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South Lake Tahoe police want drunken drivers to learn dangers

At 4:13 a.m. a 1984 cream-colored Mercury Cougar barreled south on Ski Run Boulevard oblivious to a red light ahead.

Heading east toward Stateline, the driver of a1986 Nissan rolled down Pioneer Trail with no idea he was about to be involved in a fatal accident.

Behind the wheel of the Cougar was a 16-year-old who had been drinking alcohol. The owner of the car, 20, was sitting in the passenger seat and a 19-year-old was in the back seat.



The cars met violently in the intersection in a what police call a “T-bone.” The Cougar split in half with it’s rear portion coming to rest 150 feet from the point of impact. The owner of the car died, the driver and other passenger were severely injured. The 37-year-old driver of the Nissan had major damage to the front end of his car and his body was in pain but not seriously injured.

The accident occurred Aug. 18, 1992, but thousands of similar alcohol-related accidents happen every year, particularly during the holidays.



“We do give special attention to intoxicated drivers during the holiday season because a greater percentage of people take the risk. There are a lot of parties,” said South Lake Tahoe Police Commander George Brown. “People are going to do it anyway. It has far-reaching effects when people do stuff like that.”

In 1975, 2,166 people in California died and 56,053 were injured in alcohol-related wrecks. In the state in 1999, accidents involving alcohol killed 1,170 people and injured 29,833.

The numbers have been dropping, because of increased penalties and enforcement, but their meaning hasn’t changed: a lot of people are still driving drunk.

Across the nation last year, from Thanksgiving day to New Year’s Day, 1,610 people were killed in an alcohol-related crash, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Since the start of 2000, South Lake Tahoe Police Department has made 12 felony DUI arrests (violations that result in injury) and hooked 179 people for misdemeanor DUI. During 1999, officers snagged nine people for felony DUI and 207 for misdemeanor DUI.

Scott Wheeler, a drug and alcohol counselor at South Shore’s Sierra Recovery Center in charge of treating drunken drivers, said South Shore is a hot bed for the crime especially near Christmas. Right now Wheeler has 162 clients because of DUI convictions.

“It’s going to be a busy holiday like normal,” he said. “Courts end up getting full from everybody that gets stopped from now until the first of the year. It’s that time of year. Believe it or not a lot of people get depressed over the holidays so they drink.”


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