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Chasing drunk drivers

Anne Arundel County Police Cpl. C. R. Dalton doesn't take suspected drunk drivers lightly. His friend, Cpl. Robert T. Krauss of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, died in 2006, nine months after his police motorcycle was hit by an impaired driver who crashed into a funeral procession in West Baltimore.

So this weekend, 33-year-old Dalton was among more than a dozen officers hunting for drivers under the influence of alcohol on the rural roads of Deale in southern Anne Arundel. "A lot of us have personal reasons for doing this," the officer said.

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It was another initiative that is part of the Maryland State Highway Administration's "Checkpoint Strikeforce." Anne Arundel police set up a checkpoint along Muddy Creek Road, which last year authorities said accounted for 6.3 percent of the county's drunk driving arrests and a quarter of all alcohol-related crashes.

Dalton was part of a two-pronged attack -- the checkpoint and "saturation patrols" that had officers in cars criss-crossing winding, pitch-black country roads and closely watching bars. Later today when the statistics are compiled by police, I'll post the number of stops and arrests the Arundel officers made Friday night into Saturday morning and try to determine which tactic worked better -- the well-advertised checkpoint or hitting the streets with a squad car

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It was a slow night, and Dalton and his colleagues spent hours hunting cars and turning up nothing more than a few broken tail-lights and drivers barely going 8 mph over the posted speed limits. Dalton handed out lots of warnings, often thinking of his buddy Krauss.

"If I can get you to slow down," he said, "it's worth a thousand dollars in tickets."

One driver stood out because he was going too slow.

Cpl. Dalton found the perfect place to hide. He parked his cruiser in a dirt cut-out off Deale Road, just down from the Calypso Bay Dock Bar and Restaurant in Tracy's Landing. He could watch patrons stumble out of the waterfront tavern to the parking lot across the street.

The gray Honda with Pennsylvania license plates quickly caught Dalton's attention. It was traveling well below the speed limit, a signal that it's driver might be impaired and being overly cautious. Dalton swung his cruiser around and followed the car.

Dalton watched as the car's tires cross the double-yellow line. The driver then slowed and put on his left-turn signal, but changed his mind and continued straight. Dalton flipped on his lights and the driver, instead of pulling to the side of the road,  stopped in the left-turn lane at an intersection with Md. Route 2. "That's a good clue," the officer said.

Dalton had the driver get out and ran some eye and coordination tests. "He said he had two beers," he said later after returning to his cruiser. "I'm not showing any clues that he is impaired right now. I didn't even smell anything as I approached."

The driver left with a warning and Dalton returned to the quiet streets of southern Anne Arundel County. Stay tuned for some video of the night out with the police at the the DUI checkpoint and drunk driving patrol.

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