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Volunteers Get Into Uniform in War Against Drunk Driving

Times Staff Writer

Concerned about a growing number of serious accidents involving drunk drivers, the Lynwood Sheriff’s substation has turned to a special enforcement team of volunteer reserve deputies for help.

The volunteers, dressed in regular uniforms and carrying weapons, helped patrol the city’s major thoroughfares last Friday and Saturday nights. They arrested 15 people on drunk-driving charges and issued 32 traffic citations for such violations as speeding and failure to stop for traffic signals, said Sgt. Greg Johnson, traffic supervisor at the Lynwood office.

“We were concerned about (the increase in drunk driving incidents),” Johnson said. “We wanted to do something about it.”

Accidents involving drunk drivers have been increasing the last two years, after the expiration of a state grant that had allowed the department to assign a deputy full time to the drunk-driving detail, Johnson said.

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During the first half of this year, drunk drivers were involved in 44 accidents that resulted in injuries, contrasted with 45 for all of 1986. There were 57 such accidents last year, according to department reports.

The experimental team of 10 volunteer deputies was suggested in May after a fatal accident involving a drunk driver. His car crossed the center line on Long Beach Boulevard and crashed into an oncoming car, killing a 38-year-old woman and injuring her seven passengers. The drunk driver escaped serious injury, Johnson said.

Before taking to the streets last weekend, the volunteers were put through about three hours of training that included instructions on filling out arrest forms and how to administer various balance and coordination tests to drivers suspected of being intoxicated. Regular deputies at the Lynwood office would conduct the more complicated breath, blood and urine tests.

The volunteers also reviewed 20 indications of drunk driving, such as weaving, driving without lights, speeding, or driving very slowly.

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The patrols were considered routine. One suspect, for example, was stopped after a reserve officer saw a car weaving down Long Beach Boulevard. “We found two open containers of beer in the back seat of his automobile,” said the volunteer, a bank executive who requested anonymity. “He (the suspect) blew a .13 back at the station.” A person is considered intoxicated in California if the percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream is .10.

Volunteer Bill Hirsch agreed that the patrol was a success. “It was great. We took those drunks off the streets when they normally would have kept going, because the regular deputies would have been tied up with other duties,” said Hirsch, 40, an airline executive from Culver City.

“This is a worthwhile project,” said Edward Fernandez, 38, owner of a Downey automobile repair shop. He has has been a reserve deputy in Lynwood since 1981.

Johnson, the sheriff’s traffic supervisor and one of the officers who suggested the experiment, said: “The high police visibility on the streets and the arrests convince me that the pilot project is successful. We plan to continue it.”

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