In the wake of a rash of local traffic accidents that claimed the lives of 10 people, including several teen-agers and youths over the last two weeks, sheriff's deputies said Wednesday they will step up traffic enforcement, conduct alcohol-buying stings and set up drunk-driving checkpoints.
Deputies announced the crackdown after conferring with city and county officials, who expressed fears that high school commencement parties and the beginning of summer vacation next week could set the stage for additional accidents.
"We need to send a clear message to all of our residents to drive safely, especially with the upcoming holiday and graduation season," Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said. The series of deaths shocked the high desert cities of Lancaster and Palmdale. In one collision alone, four young people were killed Saturday and a fifth was injured when their auto was struck by a train.
Investigators suspect alcohol was a factor in at least two of the recent accidents. They said others were apparently caused by driving errors, such as failing to stop for a stop sign.
"I have never seen a string of tragedies such as this," said Sheriff's Lt. Ron Shreves, who has been assigned to the Antelope Valley for about 20 years.
Shreves characterized the department's actions as an "all-out effort."
"We have brainstormed, and everything we could think of we are doing to have an impact on driver safety," he said.
For the sting operations, deputies will ask underage county employees to attempt to buy alcoholic beverages at local stores and bars. If the purchase is made, the clerk will receive a citation and the owner of the business will face fines and a possible alcohol license suspension.
Also, deputies will set up checkpoints where they will administer sobriety tests to drivers who appear to have been drinking.
The city of Palmdale has authorized funding to put two additional traffic enforcement cars on its streets, staffed by deputies on overtime shifts. The additional traffic patrols were slated to begin during the new budget year that starts July 1, but the city asked the Sheriff's Department to start the patrols three weeks early because of the recent deaths.
Shreves said deputies who normally handle general crime calls have also been asked to help crack down on traffic offenses in both cities and in adjacent unincorporated areas.
Finally, deputies, California Highway Patrol officers and representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Automobile Club of Southern California and the United Community Action Network will visit local high schools within the next few days to talk to graduating seniors about defensive driving and the dangers of drunk driving.