Originally created 12/16/00

Police give tough DUI lesson



AIKEN - It was tough talk for a tough problem.

The dangers of impaired driving was the subject of a high-profile news conference Friday in Aiken that ended with a dramatization of a drunken-driving traffic fatality.

But law enforcement officers who spoke at the safety campaign seemed tired of asking nicely.

"I'm going to get right down where the rubber meets the road," said Aiken County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Michael Frank, holding a set of handcuffs. "We stand up here every year and tell people not to drink and drive. But some people in Aiken County will invariably drink and drive during this holiday season.

"If you choose to do this ... (we) will hunt you down, arrest you, impound your car and put you in jail for Christmas."

North Augusta Public Safety Chief Lee Weatherington was just as adamant.

"We have a reputation for strong law enforcement in North Augusta," he said. "We are going to continue with that same mode of operation this holiday season. We want you going home to your families. We want your loved ones coming home to you."

The press event, staged at Aiken Mall, was part of a local kickoff campaign for National Drunk and Drugged Driving (3D) Prevention Month, in which agencies throughout the county create partnerships in an attempt to halt impaired driving at Christmastime.

The event was sponsored by the Aiken County Department of Emergency Services and was attended by nearly every police and fire organization in the county.

The agencies participated in a morning parade of emergency vehicles down Whiskey Road, a symbolic show of commitment in joining forces to eliminate the problem of impaired drivers. After a news conference in Aiken Mall, officials staged a drunken-driving accident in the mall parking lot.

With realistic-looking blood and a convincing drunken driver, emergency officials "reacted" to the wreck that occurred when the impaired driver smashed her car into an 8-year-old on a bicycle, killing the girl and injuring a passenger in the car. The driver stumbled out of the vehicle and dropped a beer can for the audience to see, and she was later "arrested" on a charge of vehicular homicide.

In Aiken County, drinking and driving is a deadly problem. This year, 24 people have died in traffic collisions. According to Deputy Coroner Tim Carlton, more than 50 percent of the accidents were directly related to the use of alcohol by the driver of the vehicle.

"Impaired driving is no accident," said Rick Powell, director of Aiken County Emergency Services. "While we often refer to it as an accident, it is a violent crime that kills."

Mr. Powell said people can change their habits and change their chances of surviving.

"You can stop impaired driving in its tracks - designate a sober driver, take a cab or spend the night where you are," he said. "Remember: You drink and drive, you lose."

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.