Originally created 12/31/98

Police will be out in full force for New Year's Eve



Troopers call it "wolfpacking." Deputies call it "concentrated patrols." By either name, it means hundreds of cars roaming the streets tonight looking for drunken drivers and trying to prevent accidents.

Richmond County Sheriff's Department will have an extra 40 cars on patrol on New Year's Eve, making about 80 total, including the DUI Task Force units and two crime-suppression units that will be hunting for drunken drivers, said Sgt. Glenn Sammons, supervisor of the DUI force. Instead of the traditional roadblocks, the deputies will be doing "concentrated patrols" where a number of units will blanket certain roads or certain areas, Sgt. Sammons said.

"With roadblocks, you're just in one contained area," Sgt. Sammons said. "With concentrated patrols, you get a wider spread of coverage."

All those patrol cars should send a message to those on their way out to party, said Richmond County Chief Deputy Ronald Strength.

"We're hoping they take a second look at the number of officers out there," Chief Deputy Strength said. "We certainly hope it's a deterrent."

Last year, Richmond deputies made 26 arrests for DUI, but Chief Deputy Strength said he hopes that number will be lower this year because people have gotten the message not to drive drunk.

That includes taking advantage of programs like Alert Cab '98, sponsored for the 10th year by A.B. Beverage Co. Working with Augusta Cab Co. and Yellow Cab. Bartenders are given phone and code numbers to call a cab for customers too drunk to drive. The next day, a cab takes them back to their car.

At least 25 businesses in Aiken and as many as 50 in Richmond and Columbia counties are participating in the program. Last year, between 80 and 100 people took advantage of the program, said Augusta Cab head dispatcher Brad Hardy. The program runs through midnight New Year's Day.

"I'm hopeful that people will take advantage of free cab and wrecker services or use a designated driver," said Lt. Tim Pearson of the North Augusta Department of Public Safety. "It's just senseless when you don't."

The holiday means a full-court press from the troopers.

"Every trooper in the state will be working," said Georgia State Patrol Sgt. Ernie Bolden, commander of the Thomson post. The troopers, coordinating with local law enforcement, will be using radar, roadblocks and whatever methods they can find tonight, Sgt. Bolden said.

"We'll use everything at our disposal to slow them down," Sgt. Bolden said. That includes intensive patrolling by teams of units, called wolfpacking, he said.

The South Carolina Highway Patrol plans to step up enforcement during the weekend but hasn't determined how many more troopers will be called in to man sobriety and license check points.

North Augusta's entire traffic unit will be prowling the streets for drunken drivers, with the heaviest enforcement between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m, Lt. Pearson said.

Columbia County authorities don't plan to use road blocks or other special measures this New Year's Eve, but will add seven units to double the number of traffic and crime suppression units on patrol, said sheriff's Capt. Rick Whitaker.

Last year, Columbia County deputies made 12 DUI arrests on New Year's Eve -- none related to the 17 reported traffic accidents, Capt. Whitaker said.

Aiken County Coroner Sue Townsend said she is praying for a peaceful holiday.

"My children and grandchildren are here, so I'm hoping for a quiet weekend," Mrs. Townsend said. "I hope people pay attention on the roadways this year and act responsible."

Staff Writer S.B. Crawford contributed to this article.