Local law officers target weekend DUI offenders


— Steamboat Springs police officers will be cracking down on drunken drivers during office party weekend as well as providing education at one of the biggest parties here.
Steamboat officers will be among nearly 400 state troopers and officers from 37 police and sheriff's departments that will be on the look out for drunken drivers this weekend.
The agencies will be stepping up DUI enforcement starting at 6 p.m. today and concluding at 3 a.m. Sunday.
The reason authorities are stepping up enforcement is this weekend is traditionally a popular time for holiday office parties, said Col. Lonnie Westphal, chief of the Colorado State Patrol.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, 15 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents in the state last December.
"We will have extra officers that will be specifically working DUI enforcement," said Art Fiebing, assistant police chief for Steamboat Springs. "These officers will be specifically designated to look for drunk drivers."
The police department is encouraging residents who are attending holiday parties not to drive home if they have been drinking.
"If you choose to consume alcohol, make arrangements so you don't drive home," he said. "Have the time of your life but don't drive. If we catch you, you will go to jail."
The extra officers on the road will be paid out of a $21,000 Law Enforcement Assistance Fund Grant the department received from the state. The grant money is to be used toward DUI enforcement.
Along with having extra officers patrolling the streets, officers will also be attending the Yampa Valley Medical Center's holiday party Saturday night at the Sheraton Hotel.
The officers will be at the party, which is expected to be attended by 400 people, armed with a portable breathalyzer.
From 9:30 to 10:30 p.m., party-goers will have an opportunity to blow into a breathalyzer so they can determine what their blood-alcohol content is, Fiebing said.
"People are always curious about the DUI laws," he said. "Unfortunately, many find out about the law the wrong way.
"We are going to have a free breathalyzer at this party. People can take the test and find out where they are at so they don't go out and drive. This is part of our education enforcement."
Officers will also have information available about Colorado's DUI laws, he said.
The idea to have officers at the party was organized by Fiebing and Dr. Eric Verploeg, who works at the medical center.
Keith Lightfoot, the center's human resource director, is hopeful the officers' presence will raise awareness about drunken driving.
"We have never done this before," Lightfoot said.
"We are doing this to encourage community health. We are using this to raise awareness and also as an education purpose."
Along with having the officers there, organizers of the party are encouraging that party-goers use a designated driver or the city's taxi and bus services if they plan to drink, he said.
Fiebing said he is irritated by the amount of drunken drivers that are arrested here every week.
"People should know better in this town not to drink and drive," he said. "With all the education out there, if you decided to drive home drunk you deserve what you get."
Fiebing said he believes many people do not realize how one decision can ruin a person's life.
"Drunk driving is a menace to everyone out there," he said. "When we arrest someone for drunk driving we feel like we saved their life or someone else's."
The CDOT has determined there have been 141 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the first nine months of this year.
Fiebing also believes that many people do not realize how expensive a DUI conviction can be.
"It would probably be cheaper to rent a helicopter and stay in one of the most expensive hotel rooms for the night than to drive drunk," he said.
"A DUI arrest can hurt a person's pocketbook."
Fiebing is hopeful not one person is arrested for drunken driving this weekend.
"I will consider it a success if we work real hard and don't arrest anyone," he said. "But that is not the case a majority of the time."

To reach Gary E. Salazar call 871-4205 or e-mail gsalazar@amigo.net


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