Monday, November 21, 2011

MADD-RI Urges State to Buckle Down on Drunk Driving Laws

Police officers from across the state joined Rhode Island's Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) at East Providence Lanes Saturday afternoon for the group's annual awareness campaign kickoff. Before the Holiday Highway Safety Awareness Event turned into a bowling tournament, those present used their platform to advocate tougher laws relating to drunk driving.

East Providence Police Chief Joe Tavares said that he saw Saturday's kickoff event as a reminder "to do more" to curb drinking-and-driving across the state. Tavares, who later accompanied his fellow officers tying a MADD ribbon to police cars, also pointed to efforts in East Providence to curb drinking issues.

"We're taking on many of the liquor establishments, both retail, restaurants and others, so as to prevent that individual from even getting into the vehicle," Tavares said. Tavares also mentioned the city's youth decoy program  as an example of individual communities fighting alcohol abuse. The program has resulted in multiple violations and showcase hearings across the city.

Saturday's event included a personal example of the pain drunk driving can cause. Cathy Andreozzi brought her now wheelchair-bound daughter, Tori Lynn, before the gathered crowd, speaking of Rhode Island's need to adopt stricter laws regarding intoxicated driving.

"There is much work to be done," Andreozzi said. "There are [many] steps that can be taken. Rhode Island has been in this battle for over 30 years and certainty it's not for the lack of efforts, but we are still at the bottom."

MADD has developed a rating system by which it measures each state. Ranging from one to five stars, the ratings are tied to how many of MADD's suggestions a state implements. These include sobriety checkpoints on roadways; administrative license revocation; child-endangerment laws; vehicle interlock systems for first-time convicted drunk drivers; and no-refusal laws.

By MADD's standards, Rhode Island is lagging in efforts to effectively deal with drunk driving. The group has assigned the Ocean State one star, a sole recognition of its present child endangerment laws relating to alcohol. Yet Saturday's event presented the urgency of the organization and its allies to make Rhode Island subscribe to the additional benchmarks devised by MADD.

At Saturday's event, Steven Pare, commissioner of Public Safety for the City of Providence and chairman of MADD-RI, referenced the slightly higher ratings handed out by the group to Rhode Island's neighbors, along with a statistic that placed Rhode Island in the "top five states in this country that continually has a high percentage of alcohol-related fatalities."

The state's legislature has been reluctat to adopt MADD's proposals, citing their potential unconstitutional nature, according to Pare.

"There's alway a balance with freedom, and there's always a balance with enforcement and incarceration," Pare said in response to Rhode Island's sensitivity to safeguarding constitutional rights. Pare added that, in the legislature, "there's resistance to the tools which we've advocated."

A resistant General Assembly has not deterred MADD advocate Cathy Andreozzi from focusing on the group's intended results – even if those results mean more of a clamp-down on non-offenders.

"We need to convey to the legislative body that the rights of the individuals who are doing exactly what they should be doing, when they should be doing it, cannot weigh the rights of those who have made a willful, irresponsible and illegal choice," Andreozzi said.



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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

House stops speeding drunk driver

River Falls police dragged a bleeding 58-year-old local man away from a house he crashed into at 701 S. Main St. shortly after dark Friday. The collision caused the house’s water pipes to leak into the basement. There was also concern a gas line had ruptured that could trigger an explosion. The man, eastbound on Park Street in a 2004 Mazda Tribute before making his errant turn, was taken to the hospital. He was later cited for drunk driving.

Officers diverted traffic around the crash site at Main and Park streets. Firefighters were called in to make sure the gas lines were secured.

The driver had apparently turned at full speed into the driveway of the house before hitting it. He was found outside his SUV, leaning against a tree with a bloody gash across his forehead.

Occupants in homes on either side of the house that was hit were evacuated.

The driver allegedly admitted right away he had been drinking. An empty whiskey bottle was found on the floor of his SUV.

River Falls police also:
--Chased an 18-year-old UW-RF freshman student in a stolen car who was allegedly speeding and had already hit a parked car. The pursuit began last Thursday after 3 a.m. The 18-year-old man was first seen speeding west on Cascade Avenue in a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am.

The unlocked car with keys inside was allegedly stolen near Junior’s Bar downtown. The owner was a female college student who works at Junior’s.

Because of the high speeds on Spring, Sixth, Hazel and other residential streets, police couldn’t safely catch their suspect driver. In the area of Eighth and Hazel streets he did finally lose control, go over a curb and stop.

He then tried crawling out of the driver’s side window and fell to the pavement. Ordered to stop, he ran instead.

An officer gave chase on foot and brought the suspect down. The officer was hurt in the spill and hit in the face by the suspect who got up and got away.

Campus police and sheriff’s deputies responded to help with the search. A police dog from St. Croix County finally sniffed out the suspect who was hiding behind a large tree in someone’s back yard.
The suspect was handcuffed face down and brought to the police station.

There, it was learned he was a college student. He told police that he had come from an off-campus house party, was abducted at gunpoint near North Hall and forced by a mysterious gunman to drive around town.

Fearing for his life, the student said he did as he was told. At some point the gunman, who was the front-seat passenger, slipped out of the car and fled.

Police say they found no evidence for the existence of such a gunman.

The UW-RF student was eventually cited for drunk driving and faces criminal charges for fleeing, battery to an officer, obstruction and driving without an owner’s consent. He was taken to county jail in Ellsworth.

The injured River Falls police officer will miss work until at least Nov. 22.

--Arrested an 18-year-old student from St. Cloud State University for drunk driving at West Cascade Avenue and Falls Street by the bridge at 4:15 a.m. Sunday. The man apparently lost control while rounding the curve near the bridge, crossed the road, slammed over a curb and ended up in a front yard at 233 W. Cascade Ave.

Police found the man and his 1997 Ford Mustang, hood up, horn blaring, in the parking lot of the city power plant.

The man was described as stumbling around but he denied drinking. After being given field sobriety tests, the man was arrested and given an $812.50 fine.

Unable to find a sober adult to pick him up, the man was taken to county jail in Ellsworth.

For more, please read Police Beat in the Nov. 16 print edition of the River Falls Journal.


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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Woman arrested for drunk driving, child endangerment

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Battle Creek police have reported the following cases:

• A warrant is being sought for a man, 54, after his girlfriend, 42, said she was assaulted in the first block of Harris Avenue about 1:25 a.m. Thursday.

• A man, 28, and his roommate, a woman, 31, were arrested after they fought in the 300 block of Webber Street about 1:50 a.m. Thursday.

• A warrant is being sought for a man, 27, after his former girlfriend, 21, said she was assaulted in the first block of Laura Lane about 2:52 a.m. Thursday.

• A woman, 28, was arrested after her boyfriend, 26, said he was assaulted in the 200 block of Summer Street about 7:35 a.m. Thursday.

ASSAULT: Battle Creek police are investigating a report that a man touched the buttocks of a girl, 13, near Mason Avenue and Kellogg Street about 6:39 a.m. Thursday. The girl said she was walking to meet a bus when the man walked past her, then began to follow her and then suddenly ran past her touching her. The girl wasn't sure if the man was trying to touch her or just trying to reach for a cell phone or some other valuable.

WOMAN ARRESTED: A Battle Creek woman, 28, was arrested on charges of drunk driving and child endangerment after Battle Creek police said she had a minor accident near Columbia Avenue and Main Street about 4:22 p.m. Thursday. Officers said her blood alcohol level was 0.17 percent and she was driving with her son, 3, in the car.

BREAK-INS: (Values in parentheses) • All You Need Rental, 951 Surby Ave.: attempted. • Wentworth Avenue, 300 block: generator, tool box, tools ($1,370).

THEFTS: • Marie Avenue, 400 block: cash ($300). • Fremont Street, first block: television satellite box ($200). • Capital Avenue Southwest, 400 block: checkbook (undetermined). • Clark Road, first block: money, medication ($500). • Dahlia Drive, 5600 block: scooter ($500).

VANDALISM: • South Burdge Street, first block: window (undetermined). • Burr Street, 200 block: window (undetermined). • Allison Drive, first block: tires ($400). • Laura Lane, first block: grill (undetermined).

Call Silent Observer at 964-3888 or text CRIMES (274-637) Tip 685 with information about crimes.



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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Repeat drunk drivers, a growing menace?

On a recent Friday night in Palm Beach County, the Contact 5 Investigators found a driver confused, his Lexus bruised after deputies say alcohol led him to cross over the median and take down a street pole.

It's a scene that has become all too normal in Florida, because DUI crashes have become all too common.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, last year drunk drivers caused upwards of 50 crashes per day in the Sunshine State and killed nearly one thousand people.

It's a problem that is dangerous, deadly, and all too often, repeated.
"It's not fair and it shouldn't be," said Duane Jacobetti. He and his wife, Tina, know what repeat drunk drivers are capable of.

But, they could never imagine their only child would fall victim to one.

"I miss her so much. I never would have thought she'd be one of those statistics," said Tina.

16-year-old Jessica Smith was a popular cheerleader at South Fork High in Martin County when she crossed paths, this summer, with a repeat drunk driver. The driver, 58 year old David Whelan, was driving the wrong way on US-1 In Hobe Sound.

Tina had gone out looking for her daughter, when she found her.

"I see this accident scene with this truck but I really didn't think it was her truck so I pulled over. I talked to the officer and he's like 'what's your daughters name?' Then he said 'come here.' That's when I knew it was her. I thought maybe she was just hurt. He showed me her picture and then I see this purse her boyfriend got her for her birthday in April and I knew it was her," explained Tina.

Jessica died upon impact that June 23rd. So did her killer, 58-year-old Whelan. According to the Florida Highway Patrol crash report, Whelan's blood alcohol level that night measured nearly four times the legal limit.

But as more details about Whelan's past started to surface after the crash, the Jacobetti's grief turned to rage.

"This guy should never have been on the road that night," said Duane.

David Whelan had a history of alcohol problems. He had been arrested more than 40 times on various charges, most alcohol related.

The night he crashed head on into Jessica, Whelan had been convicted of three DUIs and his license had been suspended for the fifth time.

"Other than, literally, putting someone in jail, there's very little we can do to prevent them from getting back in the car. We can't, literally, hold everyone's keys," explains Nelson Baez, an Assistant State Attorney in Palm Beach County, where Whelan lived.

The State Attorney's office failed to prosecute Whelan three times last year when he was arrested, again, for driving under the influence and, once again, for driving with a suspended license.

The Contact 5 Investigators asked Baez why the state never pursued charges against Whelan for those arrests.
"I have nothing to say, specifically, about David Whelan's situation," Baez said, further explaining his office doesn't comment on individual cases.

But while the State Attorney's office isn't talking about the Whelan case, Palm Beach County Judge Barry Cohen, is.
"No one likes to say this, but no system is perfect. The criminal justice system cannot provide 100% public safety," Judge Cohen said.

Cohen signed a warrant for Whelan's arrest, issued just two weeks before the deadly crash. The warrant was issued after Whelan consistently violated the terms of his release from a 2009 DUI conviction.

But even though a warrant had been issued for Whelan's arrest on June 9th, warrant cops couldn't catch up with him before the crash on June 23rd.

"An attempt was made at his home address, but he wasn't there. Whelan was one of those offenders who had had multiple addresses, he had 8 different addresses on file from various encounters with law enforcement, " explained Lt. Chris Keane of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office warrant division.

But Judge Cohen explains Whelan's case is an unfortunate reality of a criminal justice system overloaded by cases, grossly underfunded and understaffed.

"When you look at volume, it's a miracle people get out of the courtroom at all and anything gets done," he said.
"Was this a system failure?" asked the Contact 5 Investigators.

"Well, obviously an innocent young woman is dead. She was killed by a guy who's got a record and she was killed by a guy driving under suspension, who was on probation for DUI. Um, I'm not prepared to say the system failed this victim," he said.

"Are you prepared to say the system worked," asked Contact 5 Investigator, Katie LaGrone.
Judge Cohen replied, "No, not at all."

Nearly 4 months after the crash, Jessica's memory remains where she died. A roadside memorial on US-1 in Hobe Sound is covered with messages from friends and family.

But her parents continue to ask questions, knowing the man who killed their only child, should never have been driving behind the wheel to begin with.

"How could this guy have gotten away with so much?



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Monday, November 7, 2011

Something has to be done about Drunk Driving

'Something has to be done,' Solicitor General says as drunk driving charges laid in Calgary double-fatality

Two people died early Sunday after a high-speed crash in northeast Calgary allegedly involving an impaired driver.

Police have charged a 23-year-old man with impaired driving causing death in connection with the crash on McKnight Boulevard N.E. at Deerfoot Trail.

The victims were a 27-yearold man and 24-year-old woman inside a westbound Dodge Avenger that was stopped for a red light when a Lexus GS300 plowed into the back of their car.

The driver of the Dodge was killed in the impact, which pushed the car more than 50 metres. The woman died in hospital a short time later.

Police said the Lexus travelled an additional 30 metres before coming to a stop.

Police at the scene arrested the driver of the Lexus, who wasn't injured.

A 24-year-old passenger in the vehicle suffered only minor injuries.

Their names haven't been released.

Ryan Thomas Kramer, 23, has been charged with two counts each of impaired driving causing death, driving over .08 causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.

The crash is the second multiple fatality involving alcohol in Calgary the span of a week and comes as the provincial government mulls tougher penalties for impaired drivers.

Alberta's solicitor general said impaired driving has been a persistent problem for years.

"This is not a knee-jerk reaction. It's an ongoing issue, and I think something has to be done about it," Jonathan Denis said Sunday.
Alcohol-related deaths have been decreasing in Alberta but still made up a significant portion of the 351 traffic fatalities recorded in 2010.

Among those, Alberta Transportation reported 90 drivers had been drinking prior to the crash - 57 of whom were legally impaired. That number represents a 25 per cent decline since 2007.

In the past year, however, neighbouring B.C. has logged a 50 per cent decline in alcohol-related fatalities since introducing tough administrative penalties targeting impaired drivers.

B.C.'s administrative rules impose penalties for drivers with a bloodalcohol concentration above .05 but below the criminal standard of .08.

Drivers who register within that range can be subject to a 72-hour licence suspension and pay fines and associated fees totalling more than $600. The suspensions and fines increase for drivers repeatedly caught within that range.

Between October 2010 and July 2011, B.C. recorded 49 alcohol-related fatalities, down from an average of 93 deaths over the same period in the past five years.

"Something obviously is working when you have such a marked reduction," Denis said.

Denis, Justice Minister Verlyn Olson and Transportation Minister Ray Danyluk were given mandate letters from Premier Alison Redford last week instructing them to develop administrative penalties targeting impaired drivers.

While B.C.'s measures have attracted significant attention, Denis said the government is looking for a "made in Alberta" regimen that incorporates what works best in B.C. and other provinces.

B.C.'s legislation has drawn criticism from civil libertarians because of the heavy penalties it imposes against motorists who haven't exceeded the criminal threshold and the limited avenues of appeal available to drivers.

Denis said Alberta is looking at a fair appeals process and the intent of the legislation isn't to target drivers "who have a glass of wine with a meal."

Current provincial traffic regulations allow police to issue 24-hour suspensions against drivers who appear impaired but do not exceed the legal limit of .08.

However, the current law has no method of sanctioning drivers who habitually rack up 24-hour suspensions - new administrative penalties akin to B.C.'s would address that loophole, said Denis.

"We're after the people who persistently drink and drive," he said.

"I feel there should be some escalation in the penalties."



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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Drunken driving madness in the courts

It’s so hard to decide which is the craziest part of today’s eye-popping Globe Spotlight story on judicial leniency in drunken driving cases.
Is it the episode where the judge believed a defendant who said, yes, he was driving while hammered, but also believed his lawyer, who claimed his client hadn’t driven on a public road before ramming into a house three times?
Or maybe it’s the one where the judge took the word of a teenager who blew 0.11 in a breath test, failed field sobriety tests, and then changed his story in court, claiming a friend had actually been driving.
Not guilty, despite the fact that he had admitted to lying under oath just minutes before.
So many barmy choices! We’ve got judges all over the state who are abandoning common sense, and in some cases, it appears, sanity, to free drivers who slide behind the wheel while wasted.
And we’ve got a savvy club of defense attorneys shamelessly working the system to make sure the jurists most hell-bent on acquitting drunken driving defendants are the ones who hear their cases.
Yet District Court Chief Justice Lynda M. Connolly told the Globe, “I’m not sure that there’s something wrong there.’’
There’s something wrong there.
And it’s all happening out of view, in near-empty courtrooms, beyond the reach of even the court’s spanking-new, $75 million computer-tracking system.
Judges would never get away with so little scrutiny for so long if they were taking this lax an approach to, say, weapons charges.
To illustrate, I offer a reimagining of the loopiest anecdote from today’s Spotlight story - you’ll recognize it as the one where Taunton District Court Judge James McGovern encountered Jorge Pinto, who had showed up apparently inebriated for a hearing on his second OUI offense. The judge let Pinto leave the courthouse - behind the wheel of his car.
That made the judge annoyed - not at Pinto, but at those who had dragged him back to court.
Imagine, if you will, the same scenario with loaded guns substituted for loaded drivers: Police see a man brandishing a gun on a public street, and arrest him. Then when he arrives for a pretrial hearing, prosecutors suspect he’s been waving a weapon around again, and tell the judge.
“You waving a loaded gun around?’’ the judge asks the defendant.
“I waved a loaded gun around this morning, yes,’’ the man replies.
Then the judge does nothing. Free to go, the defendant heads right back out to the street, where he proceeds to pull out his piece again. And instead of throwing the book at him, the judge threatens to dismiss the whole case.
Gun charge or OUI, this is absolute madness. Driving a car drunk is just as dangerous as running around with a loaded weapon.
An astonishing 108 people died in drunken driving crashes in Massachusetts in 2009, the latest year for which figures are available. And this staggering figure was one of the lowest in the country. Nationally, 34,000 people died in crashes caused by impaired drivers.
But the fatalities tell only a tiny part of the story. There are a whopping 17,000 OUI arrests in Massachusetts each year. And those are just the ones overstretched police manage to stop.
Imagine how many others are out there, in the bag, racing around in tons of metal, sure they won’t get caught, or worse.
“People just look at it and think . . . this is not going to happen to me,’’ says David DeIuliis, a spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Massachusetts.
What is it about the mortal danger of drunken driving that is so hard for so many motorists - and judges - to take seriously?
In courtrooms, and on the roads, it has to end.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Public Meeting About Dangers of Drinking and Driving

A public awareness event about the dangers of drugged, drunk and impaired driving will be held Monday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School in Washington.
Father Finbarr Dowling, St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, is helping to organize the event with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Father Dowling described the meeting, which will be open to the public, as an exchange of information among concerned parents.
“We hope to encourage parents who are trying hard to keep kids safe,” Father Dowling said. “We want to keep the emphasis on how parents are discouraging their kids from drinking and driving.”
Meghan Carter, executive director of the gateway affiliate of MADD, will speak at the event. The St. Louis chapter covers nine counties in the region, including Franklin County.
“My presentation will give people an overview of what we (MADD) do in the St. Louis area, how to get involved and to reach out to victims,” Carter said.
Carter will invite those who have been affected by drunk driving to share their personal stories about the “victimization that they’ve experienced and what MADD has done for them.”
Washington police and Franklin County Sheriff’s Department deputies also have been invited to speak.
Accident Statistics
According to the Statistical Analysis Center of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, in 14.8 percent of fatal crashes involving drivers under the age of 21, the driver’s drinking condition contributed to the cause of the crash.
In 2010, there were 18 drivers between the ages of 15-20 who were killed in accidents involving alcohol statewide.
There were 319 personal injuries reported from accidents involving alcohol in that same age group in Missouri last year.
According to the patrol, there were 138 crashes involving drinking, in Franklin County last year. Of those 15 involved drivers under the age of 21.
Franklin County ranked eighth among all of the counties for the highest number of crashes involving drinking and drivers under 21.
In Warren County, the patrol reported 33 crashes involving drinking and two of those involved drivers under the age of 21.
In Washington, Lt. Mike Stapp said there have been no alcohol- or drug-related-accidents involving drivers under 21 and alcohol so far this year.
In 2010, there were three alcohol- or drug-related crashes where the drivers were under the age 21 and in 2009, there were four.



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