MOUNT VERNON — According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Mount Vernon Police Department, the number of local arrests for Operating a Vehicle under the Influence of drugs or alcohol has increased dramatically in recent months.
Lt. Chad McGinty, commander of the OSHP post in Mount Gilead, which serves Knox and Morrow counties, said OVI arrests increased 58 percent in the first five months of 2009.
“I would credit that to the hard work of the officers at this facility,” McGinty said.
MVPD Capt. George Hartz also credited the diligence of local officers with the increase in arrests. The MVPD has made 11 OVI arrests so far this year, an increase of almost 100 percent over the same time period last year, when six arrests were made.
“I think it’s a result of good, solid police work and active patrolling,” Hartz said.
McGinty said that although arrests are up and overall crashes are down, alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Knox County have increased this year, which is a concern to local law enforcement. He said there is more work to do.
“I think the [2009 OVI arrests] are a step in the right direction, but anytime there are four people dead in the county and the crashes continue and people continue to be injured, it’s hard to classify that as a success,” he said.
All four traffic deaths in Knox County in 2009 were a result of alcohol-related crashes.
“We’ve had three fatal crashes in Knox County with four people killed,” McGinty said. “All of those involved alcohol and none were wearing safety belts.”
A 31-year-old man was killed in Millwood on Jan. 1 when his SUV rolled over on U.S. 62. According to the crash report, he had been drinking.
Nine days later, on Jan. 10, another man was killed on Ohio 229 when he rolled his pickup at 4:30 in the afternoon. Officers said the man, who was declared dead at the scene, was intoxicated.
On March 28 two young friends were killed when they were thrown from the SUV they were riding in driven by 20-year-old Cory Morrison of Martinsburg, who was allegedly drunk at the time of the accident. Morrison was later charged with two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and one count of OVI. He is awaiting trial.
In an effort to stop the trend of preventable deaths caused by drinking and driving, officers are continuing to concentrate on removing impaired drivers from the roads before they cause crashes.
“The intent is to keep them off the roadway,” Hartz said.
“That’s our job,” said McGinty. “Our troops are out working hard, making the roadways safe and getting those people off the road.”
He said the enforcement efforts of the troopers are not always well received by drivers. Concentrating their efforts on specific areas, days and times of day, troopers are pulling more drivers over.
Hartz said all but two of the OVI arrests made by MVPD officers this year had been overnight arrests.
“We’re stopping more people and part of that stop is to screen to see if they’re impaired,” McGinty said.
He said the increased stops are designed to get more drunk drivers off the road. He cautions drivers who make careless mistakes behind the wheel to be prepared to be pulled over and checked for signs of driving under the influence.
“If you make an error in judgment and make what you determine to be a minor traffic infraction, don’t be surprised if you get stopped,” McGinty warned. “You may get a warning, you may get a citation, but don’t be surprised that you got stopped.”
Although OSHP saturated Knox County with troopers during the first months of this year, McGinty said the patrol is now using a strategy which should allow officers to patrol both Knox and Morrow counties, concentrating on the areas and times impaired drivers are most likely to be about.
Hartz said city officers are more watchful than ever for impaired drivers, while the officers are on patrol.
He urged anyone who has been drinking to rethink a decision to try and drive at all, even a short distance. The threat of fines, legal fees and a criminal record should cause those who have been drinking to hand over their keys. However, Hartz said, the human cost of drinking and driving should be the ultimate deterrent.
“The fact is you could seriously hurt someone because your ability to drive is impaired,” he said.