Youth Bird-Dogs Drunk Drivers : Police Share His Concern but Worry About His Tactics

Times Staff Writer

Every time Brandt Hooker drives down Sunset Boulevard he is on the lookout for young people who seem to be driving dangerously or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

When he sees someone who fits either description, he said, he tries to make them pull over, either by blinking his headlights or waving to them. When they stop, he tells them how many young people have been killed or seriously injured on Sunset. Sometimes he gives them a copy of a letter from a local newspaper describing the deaths of two youths on the busy street.

Both were Hooker's friends. Scott Wayne Myers and Michael-Mitsuru Takashi died at Sunset Boulevard and Evans Road on April 12.

They were among the five who have died in automobile accidents on Sunset Boulevard and Palisades Drive since the first of the year. Most of the victims were teen-agers and alcohol or drugs were a factor in most of the accidents, police said.

Hooker, a senior at Loyola High School, grew up in Brentwood, said he knows many others who have had accidents but did not report them.

Will Drive Away

"If they can drive away, especially if there are drugs or alcohol involved, they will just drive away," he said.

With the deaths of his two friends fresh in his mind, Hooker began talking to everyone who would listen about the need for better banking on some of Sunset's more dangerous curves and the need for reinforced guard rails and speed bumps.

Since Hooker spends a good deal of his time on Sunset Boulevard, coming and going between school, his job in a law office, and home, it seemed to be the logical place to begin his own one-man safety campaign, he said.

Sometimes, he said, when he can do it safely, he turns his car around and follows an offending driver until he comes to a stop signal where Hooker tries to talk to the motorist.

"It can be any time of day when I do this," he said. "I often stop people when I'm coming home from a party. In the evening, the speeding and dangerous driving is even worse."

Although the officers who patrol the Westside streets share Hooker's concerns about the carnage on Sunset Boulevard, they have reservations about his campaign.

Los Angeles Police Sgt. Greg Smith of West Traffic Division said, "I don't know if it's a good idea to try to stop people when they are driving their cars. They don't know why you're trying to stop them. Potential killers are out there.

"Trying to pull somebody over if you're not a policeman can constitute a hazard. They don't know what your intentions are. I think anybody who tries to make a traffic stop is running the risk of some kind of violent reaction.

'It's Dangerous'

"The state of California says you have to have a marked vehicle to work traffic. They want people to know it's a police officer who is stopping them."

"It's dangerous enough for us to pull people over," Traffic Officer Bruce Godbout added. "You never know who you're pulling over, if they are going to get out with a gun. If he pulls a car over and it's loaded with dope, they are apt to get out and blow him away or punch his lights out."

Hooker said that although he follows cars, he will never chase one because it is dangerous. Sometimes he takes the license plate number and description of the car. Because most of the people he sees live in the area, he is able to track them down and later telephone them, he said.

"They are basically friendly people. I don't think I make them feel threatened. Once in a while, someone won't stop. They will take off and expect me to follow, to chase them. I never do."

Makes Arrangements

When Hooker goes to a party, he tries to convince friends who have been drinking that they should not drive home.

"I try to be the best friend I can, but there is only so much they will listen to," Hooker said.

Hooker said he had his own wild days, but since the April accident he is "500% more careful."

When Hooker attends a party and drinks, he said, he arranges for a nondrinker to do the driving. When his class at Loyola held its senior prom this spring, everyone made arrangements to be picked up. Those who could afford it hired limousines, he said.

Hooker said he realizes that his efforts will have only a limited effect, "But if I save one life, I will feel I have done my deed," he said. When he begins college this fall, he hopes speak at junior and senior high schools.

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