Special grant targets drunks behind wheel

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2005

If drunk drivers think they're seeing double the number of police on Kenai Peninsula roads in the next several months, they may be right.

People driving under the influence are being put on notice under a statewide law enforcement effort called, "You drink and drive, you lose."

Kenai police will put extra officers on patrol looking for drunk drivers this weekend, the fourth week of a 10-month program that began over the July 4 weekend and continues through April 2006.

Soldotna police had extra officers patrolling for violators during the Independence Day weekend and arrested four drunk drivers, cited three motorists for seat belt violations, stopped four speeders, issued a summons for a drug offense and a weapons violation and charged one alleged drunk driver with chemical test refusal.

Funded by a federal grant through the Alaska Highway Safety Planning Agency, police and Alaska State Troopers throughout the state are volunteering to work overtime in jurisdictions including the Kenai Peninsula, on a rotating basis.

One weekend they'll be in Kenai, another weekend in Seward, another in Soldotna and another in Homer, according to trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

As funding is available, the extra DUI patrol efforts also will focus on major holiday weekends including Labor Day, Halloween, Christmas, New Years and St. Patrick's Day, according to Kenai Police Sgt. Gus Sandahl.

In Soldotna, Police Chief John Lucking Jr. said two extra officers will be on duty one weekend per month through April, in addition to the holiday weekend.

Lucking said the extra officers will work during peak DUI hours on Friday and Saturday nights.

"We're not going to be parking in restaurant and bar parking lots trying to catch people," Lucking said, and added that no DUI checkpoints are being planned at this time.

Soldotna Police Sgt. Marvin Towell said between that agency, Kenai police, troopers, Homer and Seward police, some agency will do extra DUI patrols somewhere on the peninsula every weekend.

As in Soldotna, Kenai police will have two extra patrols of five hours each on duty looking specifically for drunk drivers.

Wilkinson said the trooper DUI team, based in Palmer, also will work under the (grant) program each weekend, but in a variety of different locations.

Before the "You drink and drive, you lose" campaign went into effect, Wilkinson said alcohol was a factor in 53 percent of fatal car crashes in Alaska in 2001.

In 2002, the number dropped to 41 percent; in 2003 it was 33 percent, dipping below the national average of 40 percent; and in 2004, alcohol was a factor in 31 percent of the fatal car crashes in Alaska.

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