Police plan DUI checkpoints in county

The Baltimore Sun

Despite several efforts to reduce the number of people in the county who drink and drive, police say some people still haven't gotten the message.

That's why the Howard County Police Department scheduled the first sobriety checkpoint of the year at an unannounced location yesterday and Friday.

"A number of people lose their lives annually in alcohol-related collisions," said Sgt. Frederick von Briesen of the department's Traffic Enforcement Section. "People continue to drink and drive. They don't take it serious enough."

Of the 15 fatal crashes in the county last year, six were alcohol-related, according to the Police Department.

Von Briesen said the department began running driving under the influence - or DUI - checkpoints in 1988 and now does four to five a year. In the past, the checks have been conducted at unannounced locations, including U.S. 1 at Howard Street in Savage and Route 175 at Columbia Gateway Drive in Columbia.

The Police Department has also implemented other programs to help battle alcohol-related crashes. In July, the department began a Traffic Safety Public Service Campaign to address speeding, drinking and driving and other road-related issues by using repetitive messages in posters, stickers and other advertising venues.

The county also requires parents and students to attend a program in order for the students to get school parking permits, much of which educates young drivers about the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, said police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

Llewellyn said the department also conducts undercover operations that target businesses that sell beer, wine and liquor to see if they will sell to underage customers.

"Our hope is that fewer teens will be able to buy alcohol and then get behind the wheel," she said.

Saturation patrols - officers dedicated solely to making DUI arrests - are on duty every weekend and holidays, von Briesen said.

"They're simply driving around and looking for clues of someone who may be driving under the influence," he said.

In Maryland, a person with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher is considered intoxicated. Field sobriety tests include walking and turning, standing on one leg and a preliminary breath test.

Howard also has a Party Buster Hotline (410-313-2284), where callers can leave anonymous tips about gatherings where alcohol will be served to minors.

Alcohol affects not only the county, but also the state. In 2006, 268 people died in alcohol-related crashes in Maryland - 41 percent of all traffic deaths, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

In 2005, there were nearly 9,000 alcohol-related wrecks in the state, according to the Howard County Police Department. That same year, 235 people died as a result of those crashes.

In the county, two-thirds of the alcohol-related crashes in 2005 involved drivers who hit fixed objects, such as trees, poles and guardrails.

And that's not to mention the close calls.

Last month, a drunken driver nearly hit a county police officer who was arresting another drunken driver on Route 175. The 25-year-old woman drove into Officer Frank Moran's police car, and Moran jumped onto the roof of his car to avoid being hit.

The driver, Jessica Rey of Elkridge, continued to drive onto Interstate 95, and another officer followed her. Police say Rey's blood alcohol level was more than 2 1/2 times the legal limit.

At the last county DUI checkpoint in December, almost 900 cars passed through, and 10 drivers were arrested and charged with driving under the influence, according to the Police Department.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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