Lawmen Strive to Get Drunk Drivers Off Roads
New Year’s Eve party-goers who drink and drive faced a greater chance of beginning 1989 in jail as law enforcement officers fanned out in unusually heavy numbers Saturday to rid Southern California roadways of drunk drivers.
The California Highway Patrol, which reported one freeway traffic death blamed on a drunk driver late Friday, canceled days off for many officers so they could staff an “Operation Impaired Driver” task force in the downtown area New Year’s Eve.
The 42-officer unit, double the usual deployment against drunk drivers, concentrated on the heavily traveled freeways--the Santa Monica, Harbor, Pasadena, Golden State and Hollywood--that converge in downtown Los Angeles.
“They’ll be out there just to look for drunken drivers, to stop them and arrest them,” CHP Officer Diane Lowery said. “It means that there will also be more officers to assist any motorists needing help.”
Roadblock in Burbank
The CHP scheduled no New Year’s Eve sobriety checkpoints, but at least one local law enforcement agency, the Burbank Police Department, planned a roadblock to snare drunk drivers beginning about one hour before dark at an undisclosed location, Police Lt. Don Brown said.
CHP officers stopped 800 drivers at a sobriety checkpoint Friday night in Baldwin Park, arresting five on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Police in Los Angeles set up a van that houses their Immediate Booking and Release System behind Parker Center police headquarters, where it was to be in operation from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. New Year’s Day.
Traffic officers throughout the city planned “maximum deployment,” utilizing all available officers and assigning them specially to look for motorists under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Agencies Beef Up Patrols
Several law agencies in Orange County also planned beefed-up patrols. In Costa Mesa, seven two-officer teams will look for drunk drivers, then put them behind bars with the help of specially assigned jail personnel, Police Sgt. Tom Winter said.
The CHP reported one alcohol-related traffic death about 11 p.m. Friday, six hours into the agency’s holiday fatality reporting period that ends midnight Monday.
Rene Rodriquez, 21, was booked on suspicion of felony drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter after the fiery crash on the Harbor Freeway near El Segundo Boulevard in South-Central Los Angeles.
Investigators said Rodriquez drove his Datsun 280Z onto the freeway at about 100 m.p.h. When he swerved to avoid other traffic, the car struck the center divider and flipped on its side, skidding along the cement divider for 250 yards as it burst into flames.
A passenger, Raul Trevino, 28, of Lawndale, was trapped inside the car and killed. Rodriquez escaped with minor injuries.
The CHP recorded four traffic deaths during the New Year’s holiday period last year in Los Angeles County. Statewide, 43 people were killed.
CHP officers arrested 467 people for suspected drunk driving in Los Angeles County last year and made 1,874 arrests statewide.