To stop people from driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and potentially causing a fatal accident, Northern Panhandle officers are conducting their annual ''holiday blitz.''
Meanwhile, a local beer distributor wants people to take an ''Alert Cab'' ride home instead of driving drunk.
Wheeling Police Officer Neil Fowkes, who serves as coordinator for the West Virginia Highway Safety Program's Region 4, said extra-duty patrols are now under way by various agencies from Hancock to Tyler counties. The officers are focusing on speed reduction and DUI enforcement.
Photos by Shelley Hanson
Wheeling Police Deputy Chief Martin Kimball works a recent DUI checkpoint on National Road near Washington Avenue.
This is the machine Wheeling police use at headquarters to measure a DUI suspect’s alcohol level via their breath.
Fowkes said the cost of the extra patrols is covered by a portion of a $628,950 state grant. Fowkes is in charge of making sure the grant money is distributed and used properly. He said in past years the extra patrols have yielded several citations and arrests in addition to officers' tallies during their regular work hours.
The Christmas and New Year's holidays for many are a time to gather with family and friends. However, for some this also means drinking more than usual, potentially leading to driving while intoxicated. Fowkes hopes when people hear about the ''holiday blitz'' it will encourage them to think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking.
''DUI is the most important thing we focus on. ... We would like to slow down the fatality rate we have up here,'' Fowkes said of the Wheeling area.
Fowkes said people need to plan ahead and designate a sober driver or take a taxi ride if they plan to drink. He noted in 2010, 10,000 people across the country were killed in traffic accidents involving an impaired driver.
''During fiscal 2012, law enforcement agencies in the Northern region netted 197 DUI arrests on highway safety funds. ... We are going to be out there - we have no other choice but to enforce it,'' he said of the speeding and DUI laws. ''I think the message is clear - drive sober or get pulled over. We want everyone to have a safe holiday season. Drinking alcohol and driving do not mix.''
For those who plan on celebrating at bars in Ohio and Marshall counties, Carenbauer Wholesale Corp. and Yellow Cab Co. are once again participating in Alert Cab. Cab rides are free to a person's home within a 10-mile radius from the point of pick-up.
Although the establishments participating are located in Ohio and Marshall counties, a person who lives in Bridgeport, for example, could still get a ride home from a bar located in downtown Wheeling.
The rides are free because Carenbauer and participating businesses split the cost of the cab ride. The service began at Thanksgiving and will be offered through New Year's Day.