The Times West Virginian

Opinion

March 23, 2014

Law enforcement in Marion County serious in mission against drunk driving

How costly is drunk driving in the United States?

Despite lower blood-alcohol limits that enable more drivers to be cited and stepped-up enforcement in recent decades, it remains a major, deadly problem.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, 10,322 people died in drunk driving crashes in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available. That averages to one death every 51 minutes, approximately 28 people per day. About once every 90 seconds, someone is injured in a crash caused by drunk driving. The financial cost in this country is $132 billion a year.

It’s a crime that must be taken seriously.

In Marion County, it certainly is.

The West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program hosted an annual awards ceremony Friday for the High Technology Corridor region that includes Marion, Monongalia, Harrison, Lewis, Upshur, Barbour, Taylor and Preston counties.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Department and Fairmont Police Department were recognized during the ceremony.

“This program is to show appreciation to officers who excel in DUI arrests,” regional program director Georgia Hatfield, who is based in Clarksburg, said.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Program is the lead agency for West Virginia’s participation in federally mandated and funded highway safety improvement measures. The purpose of GHSP is to encourage, promote and support safety throughout West Virginia.

DUI enforcement programs include Over the Limit, Under Arrest; Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over; Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD); and Checkpoint Strikeforce.

Friday’s program featured individual and department awards.

Marion County deputy Jimmy Bledsoe, who says he is personally motivated to do his best to fight drunk driving while on patrol, was recognized for having the most DUI arrests during 2013 in the region. Bledsoe had 144 DUI arrests, which was the second most in the state.

He said his wife and children help motivate him.

“The innocent bystanders are the ones who pay the consequences and suffer because of a drunk driver,” Bledsoe said. “The more enforcement out there is the more of a difference that we can make.”

Marion County chief deputy Ralph Wright and deputies Donnie Wheeler and Brian Speakman were recognized for “Good Performance” in DUI arrests for 2013.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Department was recognized for having the second most DUI arrests in the region.

“As a department, I give all the credit to the guys under me,” Wright said. “Without our guys out there patrolling the streets, there would be many senseless crimes, not just DUIs.”

The Fairmont Police Department was also recognized.

There were 21 officers and deputies and 16 law-enforcement agencies recognized during the ceremony.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a nonprofit organization that seeks to stop drunk driving, support those affected by drunk driving, prevent underage drinking and push for stricter alcohol policy. The  organization was founded in 1980 in California by Candice Lightner after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver.

Victim services specialist Margie Sadler, who was hit by a drunk driver the night she graduated from high school, handed out MADD certificates to the deputies and officers in attendance.

“You are saving a life every time you arrest a drunk driver,” Sadler said. “You are extremely appreciated.”

That appreciation has certainly been earned by the serious approach taken by law enforcement against a deadly crime.

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