Law enforcement to increase DUI patrols for holiday weekend

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— It starts in front of the bar, and it could end in handcuffs.

A night of drinking in celebration of a holiday, such as New Year’s Eve, can be a festive occasion or a night that changes lives for the worse.

Drinking and driving in Moffat County has led to 70 DUI arrests in 2009, up from 67 in 2008.

Because of what law enforcement sees as a constant issue, agencies will be stepping up patrol efforts to keep roads safe this holiday weekend as local residents ring in 2010.

Craig Police Chief Walt Va­n­atta said historically, New Year’s Eve does not mean there are more DUIs than other nights.

“I’m more worried about Friday,” he said. “Not everyone has New Year’s Day off, but almost everyone has Saturday off.”

He said DUIs are a problem in Craig any night of the week and any time of year.

“Sometimes, it’s people just doing stupid stuff,” he said. “We pretty much have a lot of DUIs all the time. But when it’s a party night, I think people anticipate we’re out looking for them, and they make other arrangements.”

He said the Craig Police Department normally has two or three patrollers and will add one or two more Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights this week.

The Colorado State Patrol also will be adding saturation patrols, Sgt. Scott Elliot said.

“We’ll have extra troopers on the road through overtime, which was made possible by a grant from (Colorado Department of Transportation),” he said. “It’s hard to tell what will happen, because past New Year’s have been in the middle of the week.”

Elliott said DUI arrests have statistically increased during the past year and that DUI crashes have decreased.

But he said extra saturation on New Year’s weekend doesn’t affect all DUI offenders.

“People drink all times of day, any day of the week,” he said. “Obviously, we just don’t want them to get behind the wheel.”

For those who want to make other arrangements, All Around Taxi has two cars they will be running New Year’s Eve in Craig.

Driver Ted Southerland said he has worked the past two New Year’s and said he usually is swamped the entire night.

Last year, he had steady fares from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., mostly from private parties, he said.

“Most people know better,” Southerland said. “If they can’t get a designated driver, they call us.”

But, for Tom Mathers, owner of Mathers Bar, preventing a DUI begins in his establishment.

“The first thing we try to do is talk them out of driving,” he said. “That’s the hardest part. When they get enough to drink, they don’t think they’ve had that much. The biggest story we get is, ‘I can’t leave my pick-up out there in the lot when I have to go to work in the morning.’”

He said he tries to encourage people to call a cab and will sometimes drive the person home in his or her own vehicle, with a colleague following behind to take him back.

“It’s quite a problem,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of (DUIs) lately. You’d think they’d be trained by now.”

He said he likes to remind his patrons by warning them of the high probability of being pulled over at certain times of night, as well as calling police officers to do a bar check, so patrons will be reminded by the men in uniform that they are patrolling the streets.

“If they can get a designated driver, maybe their teenagers, to drop them off and pick them up later, it’s a good idea,” Mathers said. “What a horrible way to start the year, with a DUI.”

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