Be Wary of Motorists Into Spirits of Season : Revelers Will Be on the Road, so Slow Down, Be Alert and Choose a Designated Driver


Before heading to a friend’s Christmas party, a 29-year-old Westminster man decided to stop by an Anaheim bar to start the holiday weekend with a few beers.


As he was leaving the bar’s parking lot, he didn’t look at oncoming traffic and didn’t see the garbage truck before they collided. No one was injured, but police noticed his bloodshot eyes, stagger and slur and arrested him on suspicion of drunk driving.

“I’m telling you the truth. I drank two beers, and then the other guy hit me,” the man told police last week. “I have to go to a Christmas party at 7 o’clock, but now I’m in handcuffs. I can’t believe this is happening to me at Christmastime.”


Every night, similar arrests are made throughout Orange County. But during the holidays, the streets tend to be filled with drunk drivers, police and local activists say.

“Last Friday night, I was driving home with my daughter, and I saw almost three cars collide and at least a half-dozen drivers weaving around the roads,” said Reidel Post, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Orange County. “I couldn’t get home soon enough.”

Although local police departments and groups like MADD work year-round to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, officials say motorists should take extra precautions around the holidays because there are more parties and more intoxicated drivers.

“Motorists need to be more alert and drive more slowly,” said Sgt. Doug Cave of the Fullerton Police Department. “They also need to make sure they have a designated driver if they’re going to be out drinking.”

During the 1993 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, 39 people were killed and 840 were injured in alcohol-related crashes in California, according to California Highway Patrol figures.

Comparable Orange County figures were not available, but in all of 1993, 69 people died and 1,953 were injured countywide in drunk-driving accidents, according to the CHP.


Although the figures have been declining in recent years, activists hardly see their work as complete.

“Yes, we want to look at statistics, but for families who’ve lost a loved one, statistics don’t matter,” said Post, whose car was hit in 1988 by a drunk driver in Brea. “There’s still a problem, and it’s completely preventable.”

Post suffered head injuries, a broken left wrist and compounded fractures on her right ankle. She still has trouble standing for long periods of time.

“I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks, and wheelchair-bound for four months,” Post said. “It’s difficult when your 7-year-old son and your 8-year-old daughter become your parents. They help you eat, take a bath and hear you cry. The man who made the choice to drink and drive took my choices away.”

On Thursday, two California Highway Patrol officers who were arresting a woman on suspicion of drunk driving were struck and injured by another suspected drunk driver on the Riverside Freeway in Fullerton. Only hours earlier, another CHP car was struck by an alleged drunk driver on the San Diego Freeway in Seal Beach.

In the Fullerton crash, the officers were struck while standing outside their patrol car. The force of the impact pushed the police car into the officers, throwing them about 20 feet down a dirt embankment, authorities said.


“They were out there trying to get drunk drivers off the road when it happened,” CHP Officer Joan Rivas said.

In La Habra, officers have been particularly adamant about ridding the streets of drunk drivers since fellow Officer Michael Osornio was killed by a suspected drunk driver on Halloween night, Police Chief Steven Staveley said.

Last month, La Habra officers arrested 38 motorists whose blood-alcohol levels were above the legal limit. Normally, officers make about 20 to 25 drunk-driving arrests each month, Staveley said.

“We’ve always been aggressive about catching intoxicated drivers,” he said. “But (Osornio’s death) certainly raised awareness because it was a terrible tragedy for our organization.”

Anaheim Police Officer Allen Eichorn, who has made 456 drunk-driving arrests since February, 1992, said the man he arrested last week who had collided with the garbage truck was “the typical deuce,” a term that was coined because most drunk drivers say they’ve had two drinks. “I think he already had his Christmas party.”

Eichorn, who received a “top officer” award from MADD award this year for the most number of drunk-driving arrests in the county in fiscal 1994, said: “I’m having a lot of fun doing what I do. All the people I arrest, I multiply that number tenfold to figure out the lives that are being saved.”