Harris County Sheriff's Office touts decrease in alcohol-related deaths

Harris County Sheriff's Office touts decrease in alcohol-related deaths

Now for a bit of good news....

Harris County Sheriff's Office touts decrease in alcohol-related deaths

By Erin Mulvaney

Houston Chronicle

Drunk driving-related fatalities are down in the first half of this year in Harris County, the county that typically leads the nation in such deaths.

In the first six months of 2012, there have been 24 drunk-driving related deaths in Harris County's combined unincorporated areas, home to about 1.5 million people, officials said. In 2011, there were 48 deaths in the same time and area.

The statistics indicate that Harris County is on track to have the lowest total number of DWI-related deaths in five years.

"The trend line is encouraging," Sheriff Adrian Garcia said. "Maybe the driving public is getting the message: If you drink and get the behind the wheel, not only will there be a good chance you will be caught and jailed, but you also may end up with the blood of innocents on your hands."

Awareness has increased through public education campaigns and court-ordered alcoholism intervention programs for DWI suspects, Garcia said. He also touted steady increases in the number of DWI arrests by the sheriff's office each year since 2008. In 2012, 1,367 arrests have been made up until June.

Comparable figures from the Houston Police Department and the rest of the Houston area were not immediately available.

Experts have historically called the area the nation's leader in alcohol-related road fatalities among populous cities, citing its limited public transportation and urban sprawl that causes people to drive many miles. At least up until December 2011, Harris County held the title, according to a release from District Attorney Pat Lykos' office.

"We are the DWI capitol of the country," John McNamee, executive director at the Southeast Texas MADD affiliate, said of Harris County. "High visibility law enforcement is a big deterrent for people driving while intoxicated. There is certainly a long way to go. We have had some horrific crashes lately, and we need to keep our diligence, and we need to keep getting the message out."

In neighboring Montgomery County, two grisly collisions over two days caused the deaths of five people this summer.

One of the drivers, a 43-year-old man who went the wrong way on Interstate 45 in Montgomery County, is suspected of drinking 22 beers on July 1 before he crashed into another vehicle killing three people. Another suspect, who was in a collision that killed two along the same road on June 29, had allegedly had 20 drinks that night.

'No refusal' program

Montgomery County officials have also been battling traffic fatalities. In January, Montgomery County District Attorney's Office officials credited the "No Refusal Initiative" with reducing DWI fatalities in the county to about 70 percent from an average of one a month in 2009.

All Texas counties took part in a "no-refusal" program this July 4 holiday, an initiative that expedites search warrants for blood samples from drunken driving suspects who refuse breath tests.

After the two drunk driving crashes this summer, Montgomery County officials said they beefed up enforcement and made at least 65 DWI arrests in July.

Limited mass transit

Because Houston is such a large, spread out city with limited mass transit, it faces tremendous challenges with a large amount of people on the road mixed with alcohol, McNamee said

"There are just a lot of people on the road," he said. "Fortunately, the culture is changing to think that it's not OK to drink and drive."

Harris County Sheriff's Office spokesman Alan Bernstein said if the trend in the county continues, the number of DWI-related deaths might be almost cut in half this year. There were 85 such fatalities in 2011.

"While we are arresting more people, fewer people are dying in DWI-related crashes," Bernstein said. "We would like to think there is a relationship."

More Information:

Harris County DWI arrests:

2008: 1,555

2009: 1,633

2010: 2,179

2011: 2,211

2012: 1,367 through June, on pace for 2,734 for the year

DWI fatalities in Harris County patrol areas:

2008: 75

2009: 91

2010: 56

2011: 85

2012: 24 through June, on pace for 48 for the year

Source: Harris County Sheriff's Office


If someone you love has been injured by a drunk driver, please call The Leon Law Firm to set up a consulation with a Texas attorney.

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