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On the lookout for drunk drivers Allison K. Sampité-montecalvo | Sat, Dec 29 2012 12:00 PM

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in three people will be involved in an alcohol-related crash during their lifetime. With New Year’s Eve revelry less than a week away, law enforcement agencies throughout the county will most certainly in crease their patrols for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Alicia Chudy has been an officer with Chula Vista for eight years and helps coordinate dozens of DUI operations, which include checkpoints, saturation patrols and probation stakeouts.

“It’s a big public safety issue because DUIs hurt more than just the person who’s committing the crime,” Chudy said.

“It affects people who pretty much have no idea that it’s coming for them.”

In 2012, 163 people were arrested for DUIs in National City.

As recently as Dec. 21, two DUI arrests were made at a sobriety checkpoint in National City —that is after police screened 523 of the 1,426 vehicles that passed through East 30th Street checkpoint.

Sennett Devermont, who runs a Twitter account called @MrCheckpoint, created a text message system in July 2011 to promote the locations of DUI checkpoints via text and social media.

Devermont, 25, started the alert after being questioned himself at a DUI checkpoint.

He said by promoting DUI checkpoint locations, he’s potentially reaching millions of people and virtually saving lives via text message.

“It’s really about deterring drunk driving,” Devermont said. “Every time someone signs up they have to make a pledge that they will not drink and drive.”

He has more than 38,000 followers on Twitter, more than 10,000 Mr. Checkpoint users and sends hundreds of thousands of text messages in one month.

Devermont explained his service is not about helping drunken drivers escape, but rather making people think twice about driving drunk.

“I use my common sense and the law to help these people,” he said. “It’s something I’m very passionate about educating people on. I feel a duty to pass it on to others.”

There have been no DUI-related fatalities in the city of National City since 2004, when Police Chief Adolfo Gonzales took over, according to National City Police Sgt. Graham Young.

Young said when a driver is pulled over and evaluated for suspected drunk driving, the person has options.

“We ask them if they want to do the preliminary alcohol screen but they don’t have to. It’s voluntary,” Young said. “It could either help them or hurt them if they’re on the edge.”

In fact motorists aren’t required to answer anything but the most basic of questions when passing through a DUI checkpoint.

“People are not legally required to say anything to us,” Chudy said. ”As long as they provide their license and we are satisfied that they are sober and licensed they are free to go. DUI investigation questions and standardized field sobriety tests are also voluntary. If someone does not answer the questions we ask or perform the test, we look at their objective symptoms they are displaying, their driving, etc., to determine if they are impaired for the purposes of driving.”

For San Diego criminal defense attorney Mary Frances Prevost, one-third of her job involves DUI representation.

Once someone is arrested for drinking and driving, they are taken to jail where they stay for approximately 12 hours.

“Depending on whether or not we think the case has any defenses or not, a DUI case can take as little as six weeks to settle all the way to a year to go to trial,” Prevost said.

The criminal consequences for first-time offenders include an approximately $2,500 court fine, attorneys fees, $400 to $700 for DUI classes, a significant increase in their insurance and a five-year suspended license, totaling anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.

Prevost said that driving under the influence has civil repercussions too.

“The DMV will suspend the (driver’s) license within 10 days of the DUI arrest if you don’t schedule a hearing with them,” she said. “While taking the classes, the offender will have a restricted license, only allowed to go to and from the class and court. It’s very onerous.”

The second offense at a minimum gets the person a mandatory two weekends in jail, while a third time offense requires 120 days in jail, according to Prevost.

While the legal drinking limit is .08 blood alcohol concentration, an arrest can occur below that level.

“It depends on the performance on the field sobriety test,” Chudy said. The officer will have to prove their impairment level.”

Chudy said she’s consistently seen the BAC getting higher among drunken drivers.

“We see a lot more drugged drivers too,” she said.

Chudy said that while a person should wait at least one hour on average after consuming a standard drink, there are several factors including weight, gender, age and whether the person has eaten that plays into each circumstance.

A 12-ounce beer is equivalent to a four-ounce glass of wine or one shot of liquor.

One common myth about drinking is that food, water and coffee can help a person sober up.

“The only thing that’s really going to assist getting alcohol out of your system is time,” Chudy said.

Chudy said excuses from drunk drivers vary.

“I’ve only had two beers or I just live right there,” Chudy said. “My personal statistic, of people that I arrest for a DUI, is that at least 50 percent have already been arrested before.”

Young said a current $55,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety allowed the department to fund 10 DUI checkpoints for the year.

“We couldn’t do any of this without the Office of Traffic Safety especially with our budget right now,” Young said. “I guarantee the numbers would go up.”

Grants enable the city to hold multiple checkpoints each month, as well as conduct roving DUI operations.

“The message that the Office of Traffic Safety wants to get across is: report drunk drivers,” Young said. “This is the time of season that we need to be looking out for these.”

Young said that drinking any more than one standard drink per hour is dangerous.

“Any more than that, you’re really walking the tight rope and you’re gonna get yourself in trouble,” he said.

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