08/20/2004

Texas Police Get 25k To Fight Drunken Driving; Grant Funds 8 Officers During Labor Day Weekend DWI Program

By Sara Lee Fernandez, The Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas)

Labor Day weekend for some is a time to spend the waning summer on the beach, to have barbecues and to just relax, but the holiday will be anything but relaxing for police.

With a $25,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation, the police department's Traffic Division is funding a Labor Day DWI mobility program.

The program, which runs from Aug. 27 through Sept. 4, pays for eight officers _to work strictly on DWI patrol.

"This has been an unbelievable year for DWI arrests," said Police Capt. Robert MacDonald of the Traffic Division.

There were 30 DWI arrests made during the Fourth of July driving mobility program in Corpus Christi. This year, there have been 592 DWI arrests, with 108 in July.

"In the past five years, there have only been two months where DWI arrests were over 100," MacDonald said. "That's a lot."

The officers working the program will look for drunk drivers and minors in possession of or under the influence of alcohol.

MacDonald said that under the DUI law passed during a recent state legislative session, officers can arrest minors with any detectable amount of alcohol.

"You don't have to be drunk to be arrested for DUI," he said.

Sgt. John S. Schultz, who works in the police department's Criminal Investigation Division as a burglary detective, has helped during the holiday DWI programs.

He said that the program's hours are usually 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., which can make it tough for him to work his regular daytime hours also.

"It can be hard on the family," Schultz said.

"The hours are bad. It's rough, but someone has to do it."

The efforts officers make are important to Shirley Esparza, a victim advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

"If they stop just one person from continuing to drive drunk, we hope they are stopping a possible fatality," Esparza said.

"The numbers are growing. ... What I see going on in the city is almost horrifying. _I'm seeing more under-_age offenders who are hurting someone or killing someone."

Esparza, who lost a close friend because of a drunken driver, said the fight sometimes seems like an uphill battle but is worth it.

"For every drunk driver that we stop, there are maybe double or triple that amount," she said.

"As a community we need to come together, and if you know someone that is going to take the keys and drive drunk, take those keys away from them. The life you safe might be your friend's."

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