DUI arrests down 23 percent in Summit County
SUMMIT COUNTY – Drunken driving arrests in Summit County are dropping significantly, by 23 percent from 2001 to 2002. But local police say they don’t know whether that means there are fewer people driving drunk or fewer law enforcement officers available to catch them.
The district attorney’s 2002 annual report shows an across-the-board decrease in Summit County crimes, but the most significant drop is in arrests for driving under the influence.
Notably, the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) didn’t record any Summit County fatalities involving alcohol in 2002. But that may just be a matter of luck. While the accidents didn’t have such tragic outcomes as in years past, CSP responded to more crashes involving alcohol in 2002 than in 2001.
In Silverthorne, the Summit County town most notorious for its DUI enforcement, Sgt. Mark Beluscak thinks the drop in DUI arrests shows the message is getting out. Since 2000, DUI arrests there have fallen dramatically – by more than a third from 2001 to 2002.
“We’ve pulled people over, ended up arresting them for DUI, and they would say, “We knew we shouldn’t have driven through Silverthorne drunk,'” he said. “We’re certainly very proactive on that sort of thing.”
It’s not just drivers who are getting the point in Silverthorne, police say. They believe bar managers and wait staff – required to take alcohol-server training – are also working to prevent drunken driving.
Additionally, the addition of free, late-night bus service and a full-time taxi service are giving people more safe options to get home. The Summit Stage introduced its voter-mandated, late-night bus service a year ago.
But again, no one can say for sure that those services are even partially responsible for the decrease in DUI arrests.
While the Summit Stage shows nearly 23,000 people rode the buses after 11 p.m. during the past year, Silverthorne’s Beluscak described the buses as “fairly empty, nothing that would justify those (decreased DUI) numbers.”
But Summit Prevention Alliance spokeswoman Beverly Gmerek believes it’s not necessarily a matter of stringent enforcement or better ride options. Some of the drop in DUIs might come down to a lack money for police patrols.
For three years running, Summit County used Law Enforcement Assistance Fund (LEAF) grants to help keep drunken drivers off local roads. The grants helped pay officers overtime to patrol roads late at night and to set up saturation patrols on peak weekends. The three-year cycle ended in 2001, which meant no one had those additional funds in 2002.
Police aren’t buying it. Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales said he doesn’t see a change in DUI patrol from last year to years in which the county received LEAF grants, pointing out that the county still conducted saturation patrols on peak weekends in 2002.
“It was an off-LEAF year,” agreed Silverthorne Police Chief John Patterson, “but we still put officers out to meet LEAF requirements, knowing we’d be reapplying this year.”
Some offices are short-handed, however. The Colorado State Patrol just doesn’t have enough troopers to patrol Interstate 70 as well as highways 6 and 9, said CSP Sgt. Jon Sandridge.
“Under certain conditions, we’re overwhelmed,” Sandridge said. “We can’t get our troopers off the I-70 corridor because they are going from crash to crash. Most of the DUIs locally in Summit County appear to be on highways 6 and 9 when people are going from Keystone to Breckenridge to Frisco. We really can’t concentrate as much time on the secondary roads in a proactive fashion.”
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert believes it’s a mixed bag of reasons.
“It could be we have more people taking the nighttime bus and the taxi,” he said. “It could be there aren’t as many officers out at night now. Chances are it’s a combination of everything.”
Regardless of the reasons, the drop in DUI arrests doesn’t mean people should assume Summit County’s roads are safe.
“The typical DUI violator will commit that offense 80 times a year before they’re arrested,” Beluscak said.
Additionally, the people Silverthorne police are arresting have higher blood alcohol content readings than some people have in the past, he said.
Beluscak also pointed to grisly statistics, among them that alcohol-
related crashes are almost nine times more likely to result in death as similar crashes that don’t involve alcohol.
Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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