More than luck kept streets safe on St. Patty’s Day

MONTGOMERY COUNTY- The latest effort by county and state law enforcement, on Tuesday night / Wednesday morning, to curb holiday drinking and driving was successful overall. The tried and true program had a new twist and an unfortunate reminder of another old and persistent problem.

For over two years, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office has coordinated “No Refusal” and DWI STEP programs on major holidays, events or weekends when a large number of people were expected to be on the road. “No Refusal” means anyone suspected of driving while intoxicated who refuses a breathalyzer test will have their blood alcohol content tested shortly thereafter.

MCSO Patrol Capt. Kenneth Ariola said advance warnings of the programs through news media have been successful deterrents, as evidenced by a relatively uneventful and low traffic New Year’s Eve in Montgomery County.

District Attorney Brett Ligon, who took his oath of office on New Year’s Day, promised his administration would be more directly involved in law enforcement at the street level and take a tough stance against intoxicated driving.

The DA’s office joined forces with the MCSO in coordinating the St. Patrick’s Day effort, which involved state and local law enforcement agencies along Interstate 45. Ligon, former attorney for the Houston Police Officer’s Union, procured HPD’s assistance in the form of their “BATmobile,” or Blood Alcohol Testing mobile unit. It was the first time a vehicle was provided in Montgomery County for on-scene blood draws.

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HPD Traffic Enforcement Capt. Carl Driskell, who was with the BATmobile in South Montgomery County Tuesday night, called it a “great van.”

“It’s got an Intoxilyzer instrument in there, an HPD computer- we can file criminal charges from here,” Driskell said. “It’s complete.”

“With two holding cells in the back of the van, literally, we can set it upon any location.”

Judge Keith Stewart, Montgomery County Court at Law 5, was also part of the program, expediting the process by providing a physical presence.

“Any person that’s pulled over under suspicion of driving while intoxicated and the officer is satisfied that there’s probable cause, they’ll bring the driver here to the BATmobile,” Stewart said. “An Assistant District Attorney will present me with an affidavit for a search warrant, and if I find there’s probable cause, I will sign that, which will entitle them to take the blood sample from the defendant in that case.”

Several samples were taken at the BATmobile.

The program ran smoothly until a traffic stop in South Montgomery County reminded everyone that while having intoxicated drivers on the streets is dangerous, removing them from the streets can also pose serious danger.

Wrecker driver Joe Kearns had one of several wreckers on the overpass at Woodlands Parkway, where they were asked to stop with their lights on in order to make an Oak Ridge North PD traffic stop at the bottom of the overpass more visible to other drivers.

“We were staging behind a traffic stop- they had a DWI,” Kearns said. “A drunk driver ran into the back of one of the wreckers that was sitting there.”

Kearns approached the driver of the striking vehicle, who Kearns said asked him “what just happened.”

“I told him he ran into one of the tow trucks and he asked me to clarify which one it was,” he said. “Then he got back into the vehicle and was trying to back it up and we had to tell him to leave the vehicle where it was.”

Kearns said he did not believe the driver was trying to flee the scene, but simply to “adjust things.”

The wrecker’s female driver was inside when the vehicle was rear-ended. She was transported by MCHD ground ambulance to Memorial Hermann Hospital in The Woodlands with non-life threatening injuries.

The driver of the striking vehicle was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.

Ariola said the Sheriff’s Office was pleased with the results of the latest “no refusal” effort, and will continue stepped up DWI enforcement throughout the Spring Break week, with an “extra push” on Saturday night.

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