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New Laws Crack Down on Intoxicated Drivers

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Standing in front of a mangled car, state Sen. Jack O’Connell on Wednesday outlined three new state laws designed to crack down on drunk drivers.

Because alcohol played a role in nearly one-third of fatal California car accidents this year, the new measures are aimed at reducing that figure, said O’Connell (D-Santa Barbara).

“The message here today is quite simple,” O’Connell said at a news conference at California Highway Patrol headquarters in Ventura. “It’s not socially acceptable to drink and then get behind the wheel and drive.”

The first measure, which goes into effect Friday, increases the minimum custody time for second-time DUI offenders from 48 to 96 hours. The time must be served in two periods of 48 hours each.

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And although people who use off-road vehicles were at one time allowed to have open containers of alcohol, a new law that has already taken effect prohibits that.

The third measure will make it a felony for anyone to evade a law enforcement officer during a chase that causes bodily harm or death. As the law now stands, fleeing an officer in a car can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. When the new law takes effect Friday, the crime will be punishable by at least eight years in prison.

During the CHP’s maximum enforcement period, which begins at 6 p.m. today and ends at midnight Sunday, about 80% of all available officers will be on duty.

Ventura County CHP officers have increased drunk driving arrests by 30% this year and have seen a 17% decrease in alcohol-related crashes.

Wednesday’s news conference also included pleas from family members of Denise Hernandez, a 30-year-old Ventura woman who was killed Sunday night while she was driving west on California 118. Hernandez died after hitting a utility pole when she swerved to avoid a head-on collision with what police believe was a maroon minivan traveling in Hernandez’s lane.

More than 20 family members gathered around Hernandez’s 11-year-old daughter, Sara, as she asked for the public’s help.

“I want everybody out there to help me find who did this to my mother,” Sara said, crying. “I miss my mother very much.”

CHP officials are asking anyone with information to call 654-4234. The family has also started a reward fund for those with tips leading to the minivan’s driver.

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Donations can be sent to the Denise Hernandez Fund in care of Home Savings of America, 2075 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura, CA 93003.

For those going out New Year’s Eve, county residents have a couple of options for a safe ride home besides taking a cab or designating a driver.

The Automobile Club of Southern California will offer anyone and their car a free tow home. Between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., the Tipsy Tow service will give free tows for up to seven miles. To use the service, call (800) 400-4AAA.

Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley residents can use Road Angels, a Los Angeles-based program in which two volunteers pick up a driver, passengers and car from a party or bar. Call (888) 227-3696 between midnight and 3:30 a.m. for the service.

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“Do you have any excuse not to use [the service] and drive intoxicated?” asked Eric Oster, who started the program 13 years ago. “No, you don’t.”

Linda Oxenreider, the state chairwoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, reminded motorists that they don’t have to be falling-down drunk to be too intoxicated to drive.

“We’re talking about being impaired,” said Oxenreider of Camarillo. “It doesn’t take that much to impair you. You need all your senses on the freeway.”

Only a drink or two can put you above the legal limit and slow your response time, officials said.

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Officials also warn against firing guns when the clock strikes 12 to celebrate the new year. Being caught discharging a firearm will result in a felony arrest, said Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Keith Parks.

“That bullet’s going to go up and it’s got to come down someplace,” Parks said. “There is no reason to celebrate the new year with a firearm.”


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