Police stop 1,328 cars, make 11 arrests at city's first sobriety checkpoint


In their first drunken-driving roadblock, Baltimore police stopped everyone from bus drivers to moped riders -- and even a U.S. representative who wants to be the next governor of Maryland.

"This looks good to me," said Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley as she drove her Ford Taurus station wagon through the sobriety checkpoint in the 5600 block of Eastern Ave., waving to the officers and a crowd of onlookers.

Mrs. Bentley got the same treatment as everyone else -- a brief explanation from an officer of why she was stopped and an alcohol awareness pamphlet.

Because she was sober -- "I was at Haussner's for a meeting and had three cups of coffee, two iced teas and a glass of water," Mrs. Bentley said -- she was allowed to go on her way.

"I knew they were setting up a roadblock. I wanted to see what it was like, so I drove through there intentionally on my way home," said Mrs. Bentley, who said she drinks no more than two glasses of wine a month. "They handled it very well. I only waited about five or six minutes, and they weren't ragging anybody."

In all, 1,328 cars were stopped late Friday and early Saturday, with 11 people arrested for drunken driving. The experimental roadblock was "a 100-percent success, in our eyes," said Officer Robert W. Weinhold, a police spokesman.

Although the checkpoint was a new effort for city police, other jurisdictions in the metropolitan area have used checkpoints occasionally for several years -- Howard County and Annapolis being two areas that use them periodically.

City police did not use roadblocks before because urban streets typically are poor locations for traffic delays. Despite some traffic snags last night -- some people complained they had to wait up to 10 minutes to pass through -- the belief is that roadblocks can work in the city, police officials said.

"We are extremely pleased with the results. This will be a program that will be instituted in the future," Officer Weinhold said. "The point is that we got 11 drunk drivers off the road who might have killed someone that night. And we educated the public about the dangers of drunk driving."

Major John E. Gavrilis, commander of the Southeastern District, said, "We want people to know we're out here and will do this in the city. If it keeps someone from having that one extra drink at the bar, then we've accomplished our goal."

The roadblock was in the eastbound lanes of Eastern Avenue, in front of the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center campus. Police targeted that street because it is one of the main "escape routes" for drivers leaving Fells Point bars.

As officers checked cars from 10:30 p.m. Friday to 2:30 a.m. yesterday, about 50 neighborhood residents came out to watch. Some even applauded when police made their first arrest, a man wearing an "Alcatraz" T-shirt who almost fell over during the sobriety test.

"I think they should do this not only more often, but they should do it like tonight, targeting an area near a lot of bars and that cuts through a residential area with a lot of children and older people," said Thanos Kanellakos, a lawyer who lives on Savage Street two blocks from the checkpoint.

"A lot of people think, 'If they're going to do a roadblock, they'll do it out in the county someplace.' They're not expecting it right near where the bar is," he said.

Often, as with last night's roadblock, police announce checkpoints beforehand, although they don't reveal the exact location.

Not everyone likes the idea of checkpoints. Brian Edwards of Middle River grumbled while an officer explained why he was being stopped. Allowed to pass through, he stopped momentarily and said to a reporter, "Why don't they go out and solve some crimes? All these cops here to hand out fliers? You got to be kidding."

Police said about 25 officers were used in the operation.

Nicholas May, 66, a retired city police detective who lives in the neighborhood, said he didn't think time or manpower was wasted.

"This is great," he said. "So many people die from traffic accidents. It doesn't hurt that people have to wait a few minutes. This is for everyone's safety."

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