MOUNT VERNON — The death of a Danville woman in a Saturday morning crash two miles east of Danville appears to be the sixth alcohol-related traffic fatality in Knox County so far in 2009. That total is up significantly from the single deaths caused by an impaired driver in 2008, and marks a trend which has local law enforcement officers voicing their growing concern.
“It appears that more people are drinking and driving,” said Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. C.R. McCruter, a 19-year law enforcement veteran who regularly patrols the roads in Knox County. “We have definitely noticed the increase in fatalities, and there has also been an increase in the number of OVI arrests,” McCruter said. OVI arrests in Knox County by OSHP troopers are up this year according to Lt. Chad McGinty, commander of the Mount Gilead Post.
“Through the end of October, OVI arrests are up 38 percent countywide,” said McGinty.
“I’m not sure if the economy may be contributing to it,” McCruter said of the apparent increase in the number of drunk drivers on the road. He pointed out the arrests are being made all over the county, not just in the areas closest to bars. “We don’t just sit on bars because there are a variety of different places people drink,” McCruter said.
He said drivers coming from parties at the homes of friends and family are a particular concern as the holidays draw near. “A lot of times, around the holidays, we see an increase in travel and people going to see friends and family — a lot of times there’s drinking at those gatherings,” McCruter said. He said planning ahead is an important part of keeping yourself and your loved ones safe this time of year when it comes to celebrating. “You need to designate a driver who will not drink who will be responsible for getting everyone home safely.”
McGinty agreed. “We need to have people getting involved, not just the driver,” he said. “Twenty years ago public awareness wasn’t what it is today about driving under the influence,” McGinty said. “It’s not something that’s acceptable yet it continues to be a problem.”
The commander pointed out that while nationwide the average number of crashes which involve drugs or alcohol usually stays around three out of ten, the average in Knox County right now is much higher.
McCruter said law enforcement across the county has stepped up patrols on the roadways to continue to locate and apprehend drivers who are under the influence of alcohol. “We’ve been working with the city of Mount Vernon Police Department,” said the sergeant. “We work ‘tac’ (tactical) squads, and our focus is on OVI arrests,” he said. These squads are made up of at least two troopers according to McCruter, some of whom focus their patrols on roads inside the city of Mount Vernon. “This increases our coverage of different places in the county including the city,” he said.
For those who would take the risk of driving under the influence, McCruter has the following words of caution. “Think about the consequences that could happen if you drink and drive and you injure or kill a family or a child, and the impact that leaves on an entire family.” he warned. “And then think about the impact on your own family — the legal, financial and sometimes medical procedures; the pain and anguish that comes from knowing what you’ve done to someone else.”
McGinty said the alcohol-related fatalities this year were often a friend of the driver. “Too often the person injured is someone you know — a friend or family member,” he said of impaired drivers.
“A lot of times people don’t see what all is involved in a fatal crash,” the veteran officer said. “But over and over and over we have these crashes and we will definitely continue to do our part to educate people and to continue to arrest and get these drivers off the roadway.”