30 Arrested in Sobriety Check on Lankershim

Times Staff Writers

Thirty people were arrested New Year's Eve and early New Year's Day at a sobriety checkpoint in North Hollywood, bringing the total number of drunk-driving arrests in the San Fernando Valley to 89 for the holiday, Los Angeles police said.

No alcohol-related traffic accidents occurred in the Valley on New Year's Eve, police said.

Officers at the checkpoint, set up at 9 p.m. New Year's Eve on Lankershim Boulevard, between Oxnard and Erwin streets, stopped 1,450 vehicles. Field sobriety tests were given to 66 motorists, 30 of whom were arrested, said Sgt. Dennis Zine.

The operation ended at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. Officers had intended to go to four other locations in the Valley but stayed at the Lankershim site because of the heavy volume of traffic there, Zine said. Motorists were delayed less than three minutes, he said.

Most Accidents

The Valley was chosen for the city's only checkpoint on New Year's Eve, and for one last Saturday in Van Nuys, because the area had the most alcohol- and drug-related accidents in Los Angeles during a test period from Nov. 28 to Dec. 23, said Capt. Al Fried, commanding officer of the Valley Traffic Division.

In that test period, officers made 789 drunk-driving arrests in the Valley, Fried said. Also, 24 people were seriously injured and four others died because of accidents involving alcohol or drugs, he said.

At the New Year's checkpoint, motorists suspected of driving drunk were given sobriety tests by eight officers who are drug-recognition experts, Zine said. Also on hand was the "Batmobile," a van that carries equipment that tests blood-alcohol levels and has a small holding cell for people who are arrested.

Members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving were at the checkpoint, distributing plastic automobile trash bags with "MADD" printed on them.

Shrugged It Off

Several motorists who passed sobriety tests seemed a bit disgruntled but quickly shrugged off the inconvenience of being detained temporarily. Early in the evening, Bill Betzner, 32, of Burbank, who was driving a blue pickup, was pulled over to take a sobriety test and passed.

"I get a lot of this kind of stuff because of my looks," he said, referring to his disheveled appearance, full beard and mustache. "But I've got no gripe. It's just another way of keeping the peace."

A well-dressed, middle-aged man was asked to take a sobriety test by holding his right leg in front of him six inches off the ground and counting to 50. He passed.

"When I got to 20 or 21," the man said, "I thought that this is tough any way you look at it."

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, police did not use checkpoints, primarily because officials are watching the success of the roadblock strategy in the Valley, Fried said.

"It's an expensive thing to do," Fried said. "We have 30 officers working for this operation alone, and they have to be paid. But if it works well in the Valley, other divisions will probably catch on."

Fried said police learned a few lessons from the department's first use of checkpoints Saturday. During that roadblock, which resulted in five arrests, officers noticed that many drivers, who were possibly drunk, were avoiding detection by switching seats with passengers in their cars as they approached the roadblock.

Officers also saw a lot of commotion in some cars as motorists drove up to the checkpoints, leading police to believe drivers were trying to hide items such as drugs or weapons, Fried said.

So, during the New Year's operation, two officers walked through the traffic about half a block from the checkpoint to look for any suspicious activity, Fried said.

The New Year's sobriety checkpoint also gave officers the opportunity to warn motorists about California's new seat belt law, which requires drivers to buckle up or face a $20 fine.

In another holiday move to reduce drunk driving, about 200 free taxi rides home were given to intoxicated patrons of restaurants and bars throughout the Valley.

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