MOUNT VERNON — Knox County saw a dramatic jump in OVI arrests last year — the fourth-highest increase in the state, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Drunk driving is a growing problem locally, according to Lt. Chad McGinty, commander of the Mount Gilead Post of the OSHP. Six people died in alcohol-related crashes in 2009, after 2008 saw just one such fatality.
“There has been an increase in alcohol-related crashes, alcohol-related injury crashes, and fatalities,” McGinty said. “Only three counties in the state of Ohio had larger increases in OVI arrests then we did in Knox.”
Although overall crash fatalities in the county have steadily declined in the last five years, alcohol-related crashes have gone in the opposite direction.
“In 2005, there were 24 fatalities in our post area [Knox and Morrow counties],” McGinty said. “In 2009, there were 14; we’ve come close to almost cutting that number in half.
“I see that as progress,” he said. “Those are friends, coworkers, family members and loved ones that are still walking around. However, when we look at the specific number of alcohol-related fatalities, they are at an unacceptable level.”
Of the eight fatalities on Knox County roads last year, 75 percent involved alcohol.
“National and state levels are somewhere around 30 percent of crashes that involve an impaired driver,” McGinty said.
He said even though the number varies from county to county, the 75 percent Knox County experienced last year is of great concern. He said the large increase in the number of OVI arrests may have prevented even more deaths.
“We’re removing more impaired drivers than ever before, but yet we’ve still got an increased number of alcohol-related crashes,” said McGinty. “There were far less crashes than we had in previous years, so that makes the increase in alcohol-related crashes even more of a concern.”
During 2009, the patrol focused much of its OVI eradication efforts on U.S. 36, taking troopers from other areas in Knox and Morrow counties and putting them on traffic duty along U.S. 36.
“As a result, there were no fatal alcohol-related crashes on 36,” said McGinty. “Many of your readers who spent some time on 36 saw our officers, and some may have received citations.”
The increased presence and visibility of troopers along the road may have increased safety, but the task is not complete, according to McGinty.
“We still have work to do on 36,” he said Thursday. “That is the leading injury crash route in the entire post area.”
That includes Interstate 71, Ohio 61, Ohio 95 and Ohio 229.
He said he has received phone calls from frustrated and angry drivers who feel they were pulled over by troopers out looking for impaired drivers.
“They tell me, ‘He was just looking for a drunk,’ and I say, “Yes, he was,’” McGinty said. “We’ve been looking for drunks and we’re still going to look for drunks. We’re going to continue to focus on 36; we’re going to continue to focus on OVI arrests.”
He said while troopers are doing their part, they need citizens to step up and do theirs.
“I’d like to see people in the county get more involved,” McGinty said.
He said that every time an impaired driver gets behind the wheel, a friend, acquaintance or family member has the chance to step up and make a difference.
“They need to help those people who are impaired make a good decision; [OSHP] can’t be everywhere, even though we’re arresting more people than we ever have before,” McGinty said. “They need to step up and say, ‘Let me call you a cab,’ ‘Let me give you a ride home,’ or ‘Stay here. There are still people slipping through the cracks, and when they crash — somebody, somewhere knows that person shouldn’t have gotten into the car.”