State report sheds light on Colorado’s DUI offenses

The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice released a report earlier this summer analyzing DUI cases around the state.

FRISCO — Summit County has a problem with impaired drivers, according to a report recently published by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.

The division, operated through the Colorado Department of Public Safety, came out with its second annual report on driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol earlier this summer. The report — mandated following the passage of a house bill in 2017 — is meant to provide a comprehensive overview of the scope of DUI cases in the state, along with shining a light on the demographics of offenders, the types of drugs involved and the outcome of the cases.

According to the report, there were 26,454 case filings with at least one DUI charge in 2017 in Colorado, a 2.9% decrease from 2016 when there were 27,244. The report is backlogged one year to allow time for cases to be adjudicated.

In Summit County specifically, there were 411 DUI case filings in 2017, a small bump from the 395 in 2016. While Summit certainly doesn’t stack up to some of the other counties in terms of total DUIs — El Paso County had more than 3,000 in 2017 — the rate of DUIs in the county is concerning. According to the report, Summit County had 1,548 DUIs per 100,000 people 16 and older, the fifth highest rate in the state.

“It’s obviously a big concern,” said Colin Remillard, spokesman for Colorado State Patrol here in Summit County. “I would say that somewhere every night in the county somebody is probably driving impaired. That’s our mentality when we’re working nights, and that’s why we’re always looking.”

Of the DUI arrests made by the county’s law enforcement agencies in 2017, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office recorded the most with 88, followed by the police departments in Breckenridge (74), Frisco (42), Silverthorne (34) and Dillon (23).

Remillard noted that part of the issue is the county’s vacation destination culture, which can create problems for visitors and seasonal employees.

“I think we do get a lot of people who come to this county looking for a good time,” Remillard said. “It’s a vacation destination. With that usually comes some problems as far as alcohol and driving. It’s something we’re always battling here.”

Remillard continued to say that as state patrol focuses primarily on drivers coming in and out of the Interstate 70 corridor, DUI issues can emerge in less enforced areas of the county, such as near Blue River, where two people were killed in a suspected drunken driving crash just two weeks ago. Remillard said State Patrol is working to improve enforcement in those areas with the hope of curbing the number of intoxicated drivers. Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons also noted efforts to improve traffic monitoring and said the Sheriff’s Office is hoping to team up with other law enforcement agencies around the county to provide more high visibility enforcement.

But the problem isn’t just with visitors. FitzSimons said a majority of Sheriff’s Office DUI cases involve locals.

“I would say that most of our DUIs, anecdotally, are locals,” FitzSimons said. “Sadly, I think it’s a home grown problem. … It’s always baffled me that we have this great, free transportation system and all the new car pickup services in the county, that anybody would still be driving drunk.”

Both FitzSimons and Remillard noted that the county’s public transportation system and the emergence of ride-share businesses in Summit have helped to make a difference in recent years, though it’s ultimately on drivers to make the smart decision on how to get home.

Of note, FitzSimons and Remillard also said that a large percentage of the county’s DUIs involve polydrug use — more than one substance present at a time — instead of only alcohol, marijuana or another substance.

“I think a lot of people go out and have a good time, but you have to find a safe way to get home,” Remillard said. Driving intoxicated “just isn’t worth it. We have taxis and busses and ride sharing. … People think, ‘Well, it’s only a couple of miles,’ but the potential outcomes can be horrific and life altering in numerous ways.”

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Around the state

The report also provides a look into the demographics of DUI offenders around the state, along with other information such as the most common impairing substances and how the cases were ultimately adjudicated.

According to the report, alcohol is still far and away the most common substance used by offenders. In 2017, of the 17,479 cases linked to toxicology results, there were 13,449 cases involving alcohol alone, 1,639 cases of polydrug use involving alcohol, 1,083 cases involving THC intoxication, and 958 arrests involving both alcohol and marijuana.

In regard to demographics, a large majority of offenders were male, with more than 19,600 men arrested for DUIs compared with just 6,767 women. The highest rate of DUIs occurred at age 24 for men and women — 1,459 DUI case filings per 100,000 individuals — with a steady decline as age increases. Offenders were also heavily Caucasian (82.4%).

A hefty majority of DUI cases were handled as misdemeanors (24,972) compared with felonies (1,066), and about 81% of those cited were found guilty in court. For those convicted of a DUI, most were sentenced to pay fees and restitutions, averaging just under $5,000. Individuals who were incarcerated were sentenced to an average of five days of community service, 636 days of probation and 235 days in jail — though sentencing varied considerably by the severity of the offense.

State officials are hopeful that programs like CDOT’s The Heat is On campaign and high visibility enforcement periods will help put a dent in the number of impaired drivers on the roads. Though the most recent numbers aren’t encouraging.

According to CDOT, there were 2,999 impaired drivers cited during the summer’s six high visibility enforcement periods this year, an 11% increase from the same period in 2018.

“No matter what time of year it is, drivers need to make responsible decisions and stay off the roads while impaired,” State Patrol Chief Col. Matthew Packard said in a news release. “With the number of accessible alternatives to driving, there is no excuse for getting behind the wheel impaired.”

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